Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Last month, Paul Quinn's Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Amendment Bill was drawn from the member's ballot. Today, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson formally notified the House that it was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act [PDF], as it unjustifiably infringes the right to vote.

Finlayson isn't taking any great leap here. In 1993, before the current law was enacted, the High Court found that the then-prohibition on all prisoners voting was inconsistent with the BORA. That's why we got rid of it. The same logic has applied overseas, with rulings in both Canada and from the ECHR. The UN Human Rights Committee has ruled that any deprivation of the right to vote for criminal offending must be objective, reasonable, and proportionate. Quinn's proposal does not meet any of these criteria. It applies regardless of the seriousness of the offence, excludes those convicted of equally serious offences who for one reason or another (e.g. making reparations - i.e. wealth) are not sentenced to prison, and would be effectively a lottery based on the sentencing date. It is unfair and disproportionate.

So naturally, National will be voting the bill to select committee...

Rather than stripping prisoners of the vote, we should be doing the opposite. Prisoners deserve the vote. They live here, they have an interest - a very strong interest - in how this country is run, and that interest is no less important than anybody else's. As for the common claim that they've shown by their actions that they cannot be trusted with the vote, I could equally make the same claim about ACT voters (I mean really, electing a dead guy and a madman? What were you thinking?) But in a democracy, we don't get to second-guess each other's choices or their competence; we just have to accept them. We all have interests, everyone's interest counts equally, and so we all get to vote. Anything less is undemocratic.