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Labour, Maori Parties Biggest Losers If Prison Voting Scrapped

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Feb 11 NZPA - A huge proportion of votes lost prisoners are stopped from voting in elections will be in Labour and Maori Party strongholds, a prison reform group says.

Under current law, prisoners serving sentences of more than three years can't vote, but National MP Paul Quinn wants to change that to encompass all prisoners.

His member's bill, Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Amendment Bill, has been drawn from the ballot and will go on Parliament's agenda for a first reading.

Rethinking Crime and Punishment director Kim Workman said the bill would affect the 85-90 percent of prisoners who would be out of jail within two years.

"While it may be a matter of indifference to many prisoners, the bill not only disenfranchises them, it disenfranchises their communities," Mr Workman said.

"Because a disproportionate number of prisoners live in communities such as Otara, Flaxmere, Cannons Creek and so on, those communities lose a significant number of voters.

"I am sure that Paul Quinn didn't intend it, but the Opposition will be quick to note that a huge proportion of the 8500 prisoner votes lost as a result of this bill, will be in Labour and Maori Party strongholds."

Mr Quinn said National's caucus had supported his bill going into the ballot and he was confident it would have the numbers to get through its first reading and go to a select committee for public submissions.

"I've held a view for a long time that people in prison have transgressed against society and as part of their punishment they shouldn't be able to vote," he said.

Current law, and Mr Quinn's bill, applies to people serving a sentence in jail and not before conviction or after release.

The bill amends the Electoral Act 1993; before that Act was passed, no prisoner could vote.

The change was made on a recommendation from a Royal Commission, which took the view that three years would be the point at which they would lose the vote as they lacked the means to make an informed choice.

"Prisoners serving sentence less than three years do have the opportunity to discussion and the exchange of ideas -- the removal of their rights to vote is clearly a breach of the Human Rights Act," Mr Workman said.

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