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An introduction to the privilege and responsibility of voting

Voting is a right, not a privilege Summary Last week, the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision that the ban on prisoner voting does not align with the principles of the Bill of Rights. Another decision is pending — the decision of whether or not the law behind the ban was passed lawfully.

  • The New Zealand Bill of Rights protects the rights of its citizens to vote over the age of 18 regardless of age, sex, class, or beliefs to be able to participate in our democratic society;
  • Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status;
  • Thirty-two states also disenfranchise felons on parole; twenty-nine disenfranchise those on probation;
  • Quota systems operate in different ways, but in general they reserve a certain number or percentage of candidacy spots or actual seats in a legislative body for women.

If the Court confirms this, it could mean that many of those in prison will be immediately eligible to vote. The New Zealand Bill of Rights protects the rights of its citizens to vote over the age of 18 regardless of age, sex, class, or beliefs to be able to participate in our democratic society. However, in 2010, New Zealand saw the introduction of Electoral disqualification of sentenced prisoners Amendment Act which took away the rights of prisoners to vote in any elections or referendums.

Arguments in favour of the ban on prisoner voting include the measure being a deterrent of committing more crime and that a benefit of being a law-abiding citizen gives you the right to vote. Though, as the author points out, the ban on prisoner voting is founded on the belief that voting is a privilege, rather than a right.

Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities

While the Bill of Rights also allows reasonable limitations on rights — this needs to be justifiable. We believe in this case, it is not.

  1. Constituency — a body of individuals entitled to elect a representative to a legislative or other representative body Democracy — a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation Disenfranchise — to take away the power or opportunity to vote Election — a systematic process by which voters cast ballots for candidates or positions on issues Proportional representation — an electoral system in which political parties are represented according to the number of people who voted for them II. Voting generally takes place in the context of a large-scale national or regional election, however, local and small-scale community elections can be just as critical to individual participation in government.
  2. While quotas can be a very quick and effective way to address the problem of under-representation of women in government, they are controversial and often raise as many issues about the right to vote as they solve.
  3. Key terms Ballot — action or system of secret voting Candidate - A person who seeks or is nominated for a political office Citizen - Connotes membership in a political society to which a duty of permanent allegiance is implied. An important force in combating disenfranchisement is the growth of organizations engaged in election monitoring.
  4. Today, [in the United States] all mentally competent adults have the right to vote with only one exception.
  5. A prisoner serving a very short sentence who happens to be in prison on an election day will be disqualified from voting, but a prisoner who is in for longer but not on an election day will not be prevented from voting. The most common are ratification or accession.

This Government has an opportunity to make it right and lift the ban to allow those eligible to vote in this years General Election by repealing the Act. A JustSpeak volunteer sums up some of the history in this case, the motivations for the law, and how the Act is a breach of the Bill of Rights and further marginalises those who are already marginalised.

Voting is a right, not a privilege On Friday, 26 May 2017, the Court of Appeal released the first decision in the two-part appeal of the prisoner voting rights case. This decision is of fundamental importance because the Court of Appeal confirmed New Zealand courts have the power to formally declare that a law passed by Parliament is inconsistent with the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the Court of Appeal confirmed that the High Court was right to make such a declaration of inconsistency in relation to the blanket prisoner voting ban passed by Parliament in 2010.

In 2015 the High Court heard an application by a number of prisoners for a formal declaration from the Court that the law banning all prisoners from voting is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights. The High Court agreed with the prisoners and made the declaration that the ban was unjustifiably, inconsistent with s 12 of the Bill of Rights, which protects the right to vote.

But they were not challenging the fact that the ban is inconsistent with the right to vote. The Crown accepts that the ban is inconsistent with this fundamental human right. Section 5 of the Bill of Rights Act allows reasonable limitations on rights that can be justified in a free and democratic society. But after Parliament amended the law in 2010 the Electoral Act 1993 disqualified all sentenced prisoners from voting, no matter how long their prison sentence or what they are in prison for.

Because of this the ban acts in an irrational way that is not proportionate to the offence or sentence. A prisoner serving a very short sentence who happens to be in prison on an election day will be disqualified from voting, but a prisoner who is in for longer but not on an election day will not be prevented from voting.

Also, similar crimes can result in different sentences such as home detention or imprisonment for reasons unconnected to the seriousness of the offence, but the offender on home detention will be able to vote, while the prisoner will not. Further, not everyone sentenced to prison has committed serious or numerous crimes.

Voting is a right, not a privilege

Shortly before the Bill came into force, 24 per cent of prisoners serving less than three years were imprisoned for offences of a non-violent and non-sexual nature. But the ban impacts disproportionately on those in society who are already marginalised. In fact, many prisoners are not enrolled when they are sentenced anyway.

The corrections system is meant to be guided by principles of rehabilitation and reintegration, but the disenfranchisement of prisoners suggest they are not a part of society.

If the justice and corrections systems encouraged prisoners to enrol to vote, that could engender a sense that they are a valued part of our society and promote a greater sense of social responsibility. Another argument in favour of prisoner voting bans is that it acts as a deterrent to committing further crime.

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Putting aside the lack of evidence to support this contention, any deterrent effect is likely to be outweighed by the influence of other drivers of crime, such as substance addiction, mental health issues, and socio-economic disadvantage.

Addressing these matters would be much more effective deterrence than removing the right to vote. The disqualification of prisoners from voting is founded in a belief that voting is a privilege, rather than a right, and in regulating the right to vote in this way it undermines the fundamental democratic principle of universal suffrage — the principle that everyone over the age of 18 regardless of race, sex, class, or beliefs has the right to vote.

It is the universality of the suffrage the underpins representative democracies like An introduction to the privilege and responsibility of voting Zealand and gives legitimacy to the laws made by our representatives.

Although the expansion of the franchise e. Courts in places that New Zealand tends to compare itself to such as Canada and Europe have struck down blanket prisoner voting bans as being a breach of the fundamental human right to vote. Even though the Court has now declared the blanket prisoner voting ban to be inconsistent with out Bill of Rights, the New Zealand Courts do not have the power to strike down legislation — that means the ban is still the law in New Zealand.

So it is up to our democratically elected representatives to address this human rights breach. If human rights are not enough of an imperative there are other reasons why the Government could enfranchise prisoners: In these circumstances it is politically tenable for the current Government to distance itself from the ban, and demonstrate its commitment to the human rights of all New Zealanders by repealing the ban. If the Court finds that the decision was not lawfully made then the 2010 law will immediately be of no effect, and prisoners serving sentences of less than three years will be able to enrol to vote.

But there is no guarantee of that outcome, and with less than four months till the next General Election we should all be calling for Parliament to urgently re enfranchise prisoners, if we don't it undermines the legitimacy of the vote itself.

  • Conversely, by not doing so, legitimacy is withheld;
  • Thirteen percent of African American men—1;
  • An important force in combating disenfranchisement is the growth of organizations engaged in election monitoring;
  • Voting is a formal expression of preference for a candidate for office or for a proposed resolution of an issue.