New Zealand Law Society - Tribunal says ban on prisoner voting should be repealed

Tribunal says ban on prisoner voting should be repealed

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The Waitangi Tribunal says legislation be urgently amended to remove the disqualification of all prisoners from voting, irrespective of their sentence.  

And it says the Crown should start a process immediately to enable and encourage all current and released prisoners to be able to be enrolled in time for the 2020 general election.  

In a statement the Waitangi Tribunal says it has found that section 80(1)(d) of the Electoral Act 1993, which disenfranchises all prisoners, is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and has resulted in significant prejudice to Māori.

The Tribunal has released “He aha i pērā ai?” – the Māori Prisoners’ voting rights report.

The Tribunal has found that the manner in which Crown officials offered support and advice to the Law and Order Select Committee failed to provide sufficient information about the specific effect the legislation would have on Māori and Crown rights and obligations under the Treaty.

“By failing to provide adequate advice, the Crown failed to actively protect Māori rights under the Treaty, and failed in its duty of informed decision-making under the principle of partnership, which contributed to the Act being in breach of the Treaty.”

The Tribunal has found that Māori have been disproportionately affected by the Act, exacerbating a pre-existing and already disproportionate removal of Māori from the electoral roll. The report says that, in 2010, Māori were 2.1 times more likely to have been removed from the electoral roll than non-Māori. In 2018, the number was 11.4 times more likely.

The Tribunal also found that disenfranchising Māori prisoners has continued to impact on individuals following release from prison and that impact extends beyond the individual to their whānau and their community.  

Human Rights Commission backs Tribunal call

The Human Rights Commission backs the Waitangi Tribunal’s recommendation to amend the Act.

Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt says prison is about rehabilitation and reengagement, not disenfranchisement.

“We don’t want people to turn their backs on society, we want to encourage everyone to engage positively, and that includes participating in our democratic processes.”

“We also see that the impact of the ban continues to persist following release from prison on the individual, their whānau and their community.”

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