Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Arizona Man with Down syndrome gains right to vote

by Erin Taylor from The Daily Miner:

Clinton Gode is a Special Olympian, a former Safeway bagger and, as of last week, a registered voter.

Gode, who lives in Lake Havasu City but grew up in Kingman, became the first person to earn the right to vote under a law passed by the Arizona Legislature earlier this year. The law grants those under full guardianship the right to vote in an official election after appearing before a judge to determine competency.

Gode's application was approved in Mohave Superior Court by Judge Lee Jantzen following a 30-minute hearing Thursday.

"It's one of those things we don't get to do that often," Jantzen said. In fact, the hearing was the first in the state under the legislation, which took effect on Aug. 1.

Clinton and his father, Art, have pushed for voting rights for those with special needs for the last several years.
Art said that when he was granted guardianship over Clinton when he was 18, Clinton lost the right to vote because of it."It took the wind out of his sails," Art said.

Art has been an activist for people with disabilities and special needs since Clinton was born with Down syndrome. Art is currently a board member for the
Arizona Center for Disability Law, one of the sponsors of the bill proposed by the Godes.

Art said he and Clinton visited with lawmakers across the state to put a face to the bill. One of the concerns by officials was that someone like Clinton could be easily influenced by others and talked into casting a vote against their will.

Clinton, his father said, has a mind of his own, especially when it comes to politics. He and Art are on opposite sides of the political aisle and have had some spirited debate on current affairs and the presidential candidates.

"That's why we put him up front," Art said. "He's a character."

Judge Jantzen said he was looking for convincing evidence that Clinton was capable of understanding his rights as a voter and participating in the process of casting a ballot.

"It was a pretty easy determination," he said. "His answers were slow and deliberate but he was reasoned."

Clinton, 25, worked for several years as a bagger for the old Safeway on Stockton Hill Road before moving to his own apartment a year ago. He does not drive and has an assistant help him with trips to places like the grocery store. He is a Special Olympian and competed at the Kingman swim competition on Saturday.

Art said the best thing about Thursday's hearing was stepping back from his role as an advocate and admiring his son on the witness stand as a proud dad.

"As a father, it's just incredible," he said.

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