Prisoners to get back right to vote

By Aroha Mane

Prisoners will soon get the right to have their say and vote in the upcoming general election. This follows news that the government plans to make changes to the Electoral Amendment Bill. 

1,900 people in prison will have the right to vote as a result of the change.

“Its good news to hear that the bill will be amended and these people will get the opportunity to vote, even though they're still in prison,” rehabilitation worker Shane White says.

White works with rehabilitation programmes to help reform prisoners.

“It surprises me that some within the Māori community say, 'Gosh, are prisoners getting the right to vote?' It's a cheek considering Māori have low statistics in voting,” he says.

The success of Destiny Church's rehabilitation initiatives, like Man Up, Legacy and Youth Nation, has seen significant changes for Māori. Bishop Brian Tamaki says the government's decision is interesting.

“My personal opinion is that they're in there because they could not keep the law and breaking it.  And now they're going to influence lawmakers by voting. It's a little bit contradictory,” he says.

In December 2010 the rights of prisoners to vote were revoked under the Electoral Amendment Bill led by the National Party's Paul Quinn. 

“We've heard from the Supreme Court, the Waitangi Tribunal, we've heard from people. It is a breach of fundamental human rights and, in particular, when you look at who we lock up, which is disproportionately Māori and Pacific people. This is who we're disenfranchising and so rolling this back is a real win for human rights," Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman says.

“It's liberated them. They're living in poverty and they have nothing to do but think about the world they're closed off from, the world where their children and grandchildren live, the world they will eventually return to. So they have lots of time to think about their situation and future. We should support that," White says.

Tamaki says, “I understand why Kelvin Davis, Minister of Corrections, didn't let Man Up in there because I think they knew this was coming and they were afraid that all the prisoners would vote for Vision New Zealand."

The NZ General Election is scheduled to take place next year.