Massena Independent Living Center initiative helps mentally ill exercise right to vote
Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 1:28 pm

To the Editor:

The Massena Independent Living Center and Seaway House would like to announce the successful completion of their jointly run Education, Registration, and Accommodation (ERA) program. This program was designed to help individuals with mental illness to exercise their right to vote.

This program started as an idea in 2008 at Seaway House, which is an organization in Ogdensburg that serves to provide psychiatric rehabilitation to individuals with mental illness. Caseworkers had found that their consumers had either little idea in regard to the issues being discussed during the election cycle or that consumers who did have an active interest in participating in the political process had personal barriers which prevented them from being able to get to polling places.

A pilot program was then developed to provide consumers with a non-partisan education about the issues and the candidates, followed by an opportunity to register to vote. Once the registration process was complete, the consumers were assisted in exercising their right to obtain absentee ballots so that they could vote in a place that suited their needs. In effect, a polling place for individuals with mental illness had been created.

Due to this initial success, the ERA program was adopted by The Massena Independent Living Center and run in partnership with Seaway House during the 2012 election season. Political candidates from various parties were invited to address these individuals and the program was expanded to serve other agencies in St Lawrence County, including ValeHaven and the SLPC. Well over a hundred individuals were served by this program with dozens upon dozens casting their votes.

Due to the great results of this election season’s ERA campaign, MILC and Seaway House look forward to conducting and expanding the program again in 2014. As adults with a diagnosed mental illness comprise more than 25% of the population in the United States, they should be provided with the assistance needed to be able to cast an informed vote.

The MILC and Seaway House would like to thank State Assembly Woman, Addie Russell, Administrator Kelly LeGrow from ValeHaven, and Connie Harrel from the advocacy office at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center for participating in the program. We would also like to thank Jeff Farrel, Nichole Maxner, Gordon Ward, and Amber Ball from the St Lawrence County board of Elections for their excellent help in making this program run smoothly.

William E. Miller, Massena Independent Living Center