Wellington Scoop

Wellington campaigners support prisoners’ right to vote

Media release from Wellington Howard League
Today’s release of the Waitangi Tribunal’s lastest report, He Aha i Pērā Ai, is an important and resounding affirmation of the need for the Electoral Act to be changed to allow all prisoners a right to vote.

Following significant attention given to prisoner voting in recent times, including last year’s Supreme Court ruling that section 80(1)(d) is inconsistent with the NZ Bill of Rights Act, the Waitangi Tribunal has also recommended that “the legislation is amended urgently to remove the dis­qualification of all prisoners from voting, irrespective of their sentence.”

The Wellington Howard League endorses and fully supports the Tribunal’s findings and recommendations.

“Denying Māori prisoners the vote has denied their tino rangatiratanga and this needs to be rectified,” said Christine McCarthy, President, Wellington Howard League. “Significantly, the Tribunal has also clearly stated that a return to the law as it was before 15 December 2010 is inappropriate “because even that law disproportionately affected Māori.””

“Voting is a fundamental human right and prisoners should not be denied this,” McCarthy continued. “The Tribunal’s finding of the disproportionate impact on Māori of disenfranchising prisoners is not surprising given the well-known existence of systemic racism throughout the criminal justice system in New Zealand. The Tribunal’s recommendations are hugely important. Repealing section 80(1)(d) is long overdue and this report gives government yet another indication that the time for change is here.”

The Wellington Howard League initiated a parliamentary petition earlier this year asking Parliament to “repeal section 80(1)(d) of the Electoral Act 1993 to enable all New Zealand prisoners to be eligible to vote in New Zealand elections.” Over 2,000 people signed the petition – more than half of them were prisoners.


  1. Curtis Antony Nixon, 12. August 2019, 15:28

    I fully support prisoners’ right to vote.

    The National Party and others need to understand that: – a) having their liberty taken away is the punishment that being put in prison involves so there is no need to take any other rights of prisoners or try to make prison life harsh and cruel, b) most prisoners will get out and need to re-integrate with the outside world. Keeping as many of the ordinary features of life going inside prison helps with that, and c) human rights apply to everyone and as soon as society starts selectively refusing them to some people you end up with a society of winners and losers, haves and have nots.

  2. Casey, 12. August 2019, 15:30

    So we are to assume that prisoners’ human rights are more important than the human rights of their victims? One elects to commit criminal acts, knowing full well the consequences if caught.

  3. Nicola Green, 13. August 2019, 14:06

    I agree. Prisoners’ rights seem to be more important than victims’ rights. Our legal system needs to be harsher and take away some of the goodies prisoners receive – they are in prison because they are not fit for society. Do the crime do the time – take responsibility for your actions. Plenty of us out there have had a hard life but don’t go round committing crimes because of it; if that’s the way you are brought up, isn’t it your responsibility to put change in place so that your children and grandchildren/mokopuna don’t get caught up in the same cycle. Change has to come from within – not from the government.

  4. Sylvia Bagnall, 13. August 2019, 16:18

    We expect prisoners to leave prison having learned a lot or the time there is wasted. Where better to be taught about their civic obligations?

  5. Jane C, 13. August 2019, 18:10

    We expect prisoners to serve their time in prison which is a punishment, and we expect them to not re offend.

  6. Mike Mellor, 13. August 2019, 21:56

    We do expect them not to reoffend, and so we should be offering every reasonable assistance to help with that.

    And this is not about prisoners’ rights versus victims’ rights – they are not mutually exclusive.

    Allowing people to vote in prison (as we used to do until fairly recently for those with shorter sentences) in no way reduces the severity of the sentence, but it does help people stay in contact with the outside world to which they will return. What’s wrong with that?

  7. Jane C, 14. August 2019, 5:00

    Mike we offer prisoners no assistance to not re-offend. What do you suggest that will help prompt them to change from within? It’s not voting. Positive mindfulness and meditation programs trialed overseas get people back in touch with their hearts and reintegrated. Many people leave prison still feeling disconnected with the threat of loss of freedom if they are caught breaking the rules again. Sometimes they are recruited into gangs while in prison.
    Are people in prisons lobbying to vote? Are they saying voting was the one thing that connects me to the outside world? Nope. Voting in no way helps people stay in contact with an “outside world”. They have TV, news, friends and family to make contact with the goings on outside the prison.

  8. Madeleine Simpson, 14. August 2019, 9:34

    It’s indiscriminate all prisoners can’t vote. Prisoners have lost their right of freedom of movement. So I don’t see how not being able to vote while in jail is about race/Maori.

  9. Christine McCarthy, 14. August 2019, 14:23

    If only the victim/offender categories were so black and white – most offenders have been victims earlier in their lives. Newsroom has an interesting piece on Chester Borrows re some of this today. An excerpt: “People want their victims to come in certain boxes… White and pure, and attacked by strangers and through no fault of their own.” And it’s easier to see offenders as the authors of their own misfortune. “It’s politically expedient because then we don’t have to blame ourselves.”

  10. Christine McCarthy, 14. August 2019, 14:34

    Kia ora Madeleine. There are several issues why this is about Maori. One is whether denying the vote breaches the Treaty – the Tribunal found it does. There is also the disproportionate impact on Maori. This relates to the massively disproportionate number of Maori in prison. It also relates to the fact that prison disenfranchisement in practice becomes a permanent disenfranchisement for many, and affects not just the prisoner, but also the rates of disenfranchisement in their family and community. This effect is over 11 times more for Maori. The reasons why are no doubt many and varied – but the effect has been measured and this was presented as evidence to the Tribunal

  11. Madeleine Simpson, 14. August 2019, 15:28

    With respect: the fact of all prisoners not voting does not disenfranchise Maori 11% more. Not voting in prisons is not about race.

  12. Andrew S, 14. August 2019, 16:36

    Its not about just Maori, and all prisoners are not Maori. Colonial separatist thinking is part of the problem.

  13. Peter Hodgson, 15. August 2019, 21:55

    I support prisoner voting because I want prisoners to feel they are able to participate in society and take part in one the most important activities we have. Taking part and feeling we belong in our society reinforces prosocial values. Banning voting further alienates people like prisoners from mainstream society and prosocial thinking . Evidence tends to show being able to contribute by for example voting helps rehabilitation.