Universal suffrage has been a cornerstone of democracy in Britain since 1948. However, by application of the common law, the vote is denied to people deemed “insane” or “idiots”. In practice mentally disordered people have been, until recently, disenfranchised by section 4(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1949 which prevented recognition of a mental hospital as a place of residence for the purpose of electoral registration. Significant change was introduced by section 7 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 which applies to both England and Wales, and Scotland. This enables informal patients in mental hospitals to register for the vote provided they can complete a patient's declaration. We examined the implementation of these provisions in the 1992 general election at two hospitals in Edinburgh for people with mental illness and learning disabilities respectively.
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