Golriz Ghahraman has challenged Andrew Little to repeal the law urgently. Photos: RNZ

Green Party calls on government to urgently repeal prisoner voting ban

On the 125th anniversary of women exercising suffrage for the first time in NZ, the support party has called for a change in the law that sees incarcerated people ‘unjustifiably denied the right to vote’.

The Green Party has added its voice to a growing call for a change in the law that denies people in prison the chance to vote, using parliamentary question time to urge Justice Minister Andrew Little to revisit an issue he has described as “not a priority”.

The party’s move follows a landmark decision in the Supreme Court earlier this month and the launch of a campaign today by JustSpeak.

In the house today, Green justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman will ask the Minister of Justice: “Will he concede that on the 125th anniversary of women first voting, there are still New Zealanders unjustifiably denied the right to vote, and commit to overturning the ban on voting for people in prison?”

People incarcerated in New Zealand have been denied the right to vote since 2010, when parliament passed a member’s bill put forward by Paul Quinn of the National Party. Between 1993 and 2010, prisoners serving less than a three year sentence were entitled to vote.

The ban excluded prisoners “from processes that engage them in society, making rehabilitation harder”, said Ghahraman.

“It undermines democracy and removes fundamental rights, which has been confirmed by the majority of the Supreme Court, who believe the ban should be overturned.

“Our justice system disproportionately targets Māori and lower socio-economic communities, this doubles down on existing prejudice and rights breaches.”

In a ruling earlier this month, the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the High Court that denying prisoners the right to vote is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.

Justice Minister Andrew Little, who is leading a wide-ranging rethink of criminal justice in New Zealand, said at the time that while he personally opposed the ban on prisoner voting, the government had yet to determine its policy on the issue, adding: “It’s not that much of a priority.”

Even were Labour ministers to support such a change, there would be likely opposition from their coalition partners, New Zealand First. Winston Peters earlier this year embarrassed Little when his party blocked an effort to repeal the three-strikes law.

Writing on The Spinoff today as part of the series Aren’t Can’t Don’t, Tania Sawicki Mead and Ashlesha Sawant of the criminal justice reform lobby group JustSpeak explain why they’ve launched a campaign to change the law.

“Voting allows people to represent themselves, and their views, in our country’s political conversation – a right that all New Zealand citizens have, and should have. In order for our country to become a truly representative democracy, we must allow the voices of all New Zealanders to be heard,” they wrote.

In another piece in the series, formerly incarcerated person Awatea Mita wrote: “I know that denying the right to vote violates respect for human dignity, sending the message that absolute rehabilitation is impossible.”


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