Friday, June 11, 2010


Below is my submission on the Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Amendment Bill, which I'll be submitting tonight. It has been informed by posts here and here.

  1. I oppose the Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Amendment Bill, and ask that it not be passed.
  2. The bill has been found by the Attorney-General to violate the right to vote affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 [PDF]. While some limitations may be acceptable (for example, those against convicted electoral fraudsters), a blanket ban irrespective of the seriousness of the offence or length of sentence is neither rationally connected to the purpose of punishing convicted criminals, nor proportionate to that purpose. This position has been upheld by the New Zealand High Court, and by the Supreme Court of Canada and European Court of Human Rights under their, similar human rights legislation.
  3. I expect Parliament to take the views of the Attorney-General seriously. While the BORA is not entrenched, it should be regarded as setting limits on legislative power beyond which parliament should not go without very strong reasons. The simple desire to grub for votes by posturing as “tough on crime” is not such a reason.
  4. The bill also violates the right to vote affirmed by Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which New Zealand is a party. In interpreting Article 25, the UN Human Rights Committee has ruled that any deprivation of the right to vote for criminal offending must be objective, reasonable, and proportionate. Blanket disenfranchisement does not meet these criteria. Passing the bill will likely result in criticism by UN human rights bodies, and potentially cases being taken by disenfranchised prisoners under the ICCPR’s First Optional Protocol, to which New Zealand is also a party. This will undermine New Zealand’s international reputation as a principled defender of human rights, and so undermine our influence on the world stage.
  5. On a more philosophical basis, democracy is justified by recognition of the fundamental moral equality of all human beings. Everyone’s interests count equally, and no-one’s count for more than anyone else’s. That extends even to convicted criminals. They have interests, and they are no less important than mine. The selective disenfranchisement of the bill is inconsistent with this equality.
  6. While some would argue that convicted criminals have shown by their actions that they are irrational and cannot be trusted to vote sensibly, it is no condition of democracy that votes be used “wisely” (and if it is, we have an argument for the disenfranchisement of ACT voters. Electing Roger Douglas again after everything he did to us? Clearly irrational!). In New Zealand, we let the senile and insane vote, and there is no rule stopping them from being elected to parliament. Rationality is not a factor – all that matters is equality of interests.
  7. Similarly, it is incorrect to say that the restriction of voting rights is a punishment for criminal offending. In New Zealand, the punishment for offending is loss of liberty. And this is appropriate. Disenfranchisement has no deterrent value, and as pointed out by the Attorney-General is not rationally connected in any way to criminal offending.
  8. Rather than restricting prisoner’s voting rights, the equality of interests on which our democracy is founded suggests that we should be restoring the vote to those already disenfranchised. Prisoners have interests. Those interests are no less important than yours or mine. They should therefore be allowed to vote. Anything less is simply undemocratic.
  9. I do not wish to appear before the committee.