New Zealand Law Society - Plans for reinstatement of prisoner voting rights

Plans for reinstatement of prisoner voting rights

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The Justice Minister, Andrew Little has announced plans to restore voting rights to people sentenced to less than three years in prison.

This will return the law to how it was pre-2010 when a National Party Bill removed voting rights from all sentenced prisoners.

“We plan to make this change in an Electoral Amendment Bill before the next election, so that people sentenced to less than three years imprisonment can participate in the 2020 election,” Andrew Little says.

The announcement follows a report from the Waitangi Tribunal that the 2010 law disproportionally impacts Māori prisoners and is inconsistent with the Treaty of Waitangi. It also follows the High Court's declaration (upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court) that the current law is inconsistent with the right to vote in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

“This threshold of a three-year jail sentence means those prisoners will be able to vote on the Government that will be in power when they are released.”

The 3700 prisoners in remand already have the right to vote. This law change will affect around 1900 people in prison.

“It is right that someone who is going to be released back into the community during a Parliamentary term should have the right to have a say on who leads them during their time of freedom,” says Andrew Little.

The law change will also address the concern that prisoners are not re-enrolling once they leave prison. The Waitangi Tribunal noted this means the law is effectively acting as a permanent ban on voting for prisoners. To address this, the law will also be changed so that longer-term prisoners will be enrolled on release.

“This will ensure people sentenced to three years or more in prison can re-engage with the democratic process as easily as possible,” Andrew Little says.