Securing the Right to vote in Germany

By Klaus Lachwitz- President of Inclusion International

Photos by Lebenshilfe

130386521-e1363776108851On March 12, 2013, Lebenshilfe für Menschen mit Behinderung, hosted a meeting in Berlin for members of the German House of Parliament.  The meeting was attended by more than 100 members of the House of Parliament.  At the meeting, two adults with intellectual disabilities shared with the members of Parliament that they are not allowed to vote because of their custodianship orders and expressed the position that this constitutes discrimination.  A German Supreme Court judge supported their position.

As a result, a political initiative, led by the Green Party with anticipated support from the Social Democrats, is being developed to modify the laws to ensure that all persons, irrespective of their disability or support needs, are able to exercise their right to vote.  It is expected that hearings will be held in the House of Parliament this summer and that the government will invite experts to provide input before a final political decision is made.  The initiative aims to have the laws changed in advance of the next Federal election in September 2013.

This is a significant step forward for securing the right to vote in Germany.

PA2013In 1992 Germany abolished its old – fashioned guardianship law and replaced it with a custodianship law.  Under custodianship law, people with disabilities do not automatically lose their legal capacity or decision-making authority in all aspects of their life.  Custodians can be appointed only for certain types of decisions (i.e. financial) while the individual retains decision making authority for all other decisions (i.e. personal and health).  Further, the law limits the decision-making authority of custodians to specifically articulated decisions.

While the custodianship law is an improvement from the previous guardianship law, it is still problematic; particularly in regards to the right to vote.  For people required to have a custodian for all of his/her affairs, the individual is automatically barred from voting in Federal elections.  Lebenshilfe, Inclusion International’s member in Germany, estimates that this impacts about 12,000 persons with intellectual disabilities, psycho-social disability or dementia.

First Photo: Self-advocate Martin Schübbe advocating for his right to vote.

Second photo from left to right: Joachim Busch, the speaker of the self – advocates in Germany.  Ulla Schmidt President of Lebenshilfe and Former Federal Minister for Health. Jan Zurek, the self -advocate who is not allowed to vote. Brigitte Zypries, former Federal Minister for Justice.