Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Bill Submission

June 11th, 2010 at 5:17 pm by David Farrar

SUBMISSION OF DAVID FARRAR
TO THE LAW AND ORDER SELECT COMMITTEE
ON THE ELECTORAL (DISQUALIFICATION OF CONVICTED PRISONERS) AMENDMENT BILL

About the Submitter

  1. This submission is made by David Farrar in a personal capacity. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.
  2. I have a long standing interest in the and have written extensively on it.

    Executive Summary

  3. I support the Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Bill as it provides for a more logical threshold, in disqualifying convicted criminals from voting.

    Overseas exceptions to

  4. Amongst the democratic countries, there is no clear policy or threshold at which those convicted of crimes lose or do not lose their right to vote.
  5. Some counties have no disqualification at all. Even the worst serial killers and gang rapists are allowed to vote from prison, despite serving a life sentence.
  6. Other countries (or states within countries) have laws which prohibit not only current prisoners from voting, but maintains a ban on voting, even after they have been released
  7. Some countries, like Australia and currently New Zealand, have a ban which only applies for sentences of three years or more.
  8. Countries which have a total ban on prisoners voting are the United Kingdom, Ireland (de facto), Luxembourg, Estonia, Romania, Russia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Also 48 of the 50 states of the United States (covering 99.4% of the population) ban prisoners from voting.

    Where should the line be drawn?

  9. I do not believe there is any clearly right answer to where the threshold should be. Arguments can be made for any number of scenarios, which range along a continuum.
  10. Below I have listed, in approximate order of severity, some of the options open to a country in terms of restrictions on criminals voting.
    1. No restrictions at all.
    2. Those serving a life sentence can not vote
    3. Those sentenced three or more times to prison lose the right to vote while in prison (three strikes and no vote)
    4. Those sentenced to x years or more lose right to vote while in prison (status quo of three years)
    5. Those sentenced to prison can not vote while in prison (proposal of Bill)
    6. Those sentenced to any form of custody (home detention, periodic detention) can not vote while sentence is underway
    7. Those sentenced to prison can not vote while on prison or on parole
    8. Those sentenced to prison can not vote while in prison and for x years after release
    9. Those sentenced to prison are permanently disqualified from voting
    10. Those convicted of any crime can not vote for x years after sentencing
    11. Those convicted of any crime are permanently disqualified from voting
  11. Starting at the least restrictive end of the scale, I believe having no restriction at all is highly undesirable. The like of Graeme Burton and William Bell have forfeited their right to vote, just as they forfeited their freedom of movement.
  12. A case could be made that only those with life sentences be ineligible to vote, on the basis they will never re-enter society. However with parole a life sentence is not for life. This undermines the logic of restricting it to life sentences only.
  13. The status quo is that only those sentenced to three or more years lose eligibility to vote. The problem I have with the status quo is that three years is very arbitrary. If you get sentenced for 2 years and 11 months you retain your vote, and one month more and you lose it.
  14. The status quo also has the problem of defending why three years is the right dividing line. Why not four years? Why not seven years? Why not one year?
  15. This then brings us to the proposal in the bill. For the ban to apply to any criminal in prison. I believe this to be less arbitrary and a superior dividing line.
  16. A Judge does not sentence someone to prison lightly. They will in fact go out of their way to have prison as a last resort. Many criminals have dozens or scores of convictions before they actually get a prison term. Prison is regarded as reserved for either the more serious offences or repeat offenders.
  17. Hence having voting rights disappear upon prison sentence strikes me as a more logical threshold. It is the threshold at which a Judge says that someone’s offending against society is so bad, that we have no choice but to remove their liberty and lock them in a cell.
  18. I also believe that the right to vote is part of a person’s liberty, and it is quite consistent to lose that right upon going to prison – just as you lose the right to free speech, to freedom of movement, to freedom of what you watch, to freedom of sex, to freedom of meal choice etc.
  19. On a practical note, it also means that it is easy to administer – no polling facilities or special vote facilities are made available in prison. No needing to work out which prisoners can or can not vote.
  20. As I said earlier, there is no clearly right place to draw the line. Arguments can be made for or against most of the options I have outlined above. However I believe the preferred option is to link it to imprisonment, as this bill does.

In summary I urge the Justice and Electoral Committee to recommend the Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Bill be passed.

David Farrar

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38 Responses to “Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Bill Submission”

  1. slightlyright (93 comments) says:

    It’s a good submissions DPF, the only thing I think they should look at is that with Life Sentences while they are released after however many years they are required to still report everything from addresses to jobs etc… and check in with the parole board every few months-years for the rest of their lives, I think it should logically follow that those with Life sentences forfeit the right to vote as a symbol of the significance of the sentence rather than the “done your time” argument.

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  2. AlphaKiwi (687 comments) says:

    I support

    “7. Those sentenced to prison can not vote while on prison or on parole.”

    I think that’s fair enough. When someone has finished their sentence, they should be given a chance to start over.

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  3. MIKMS (166 comments) says:

    I like the idea in Principle

    however I’d like to consider that those with Summary convictions or jail sentences of less than 6 months shouldn’t be disbarred from the Party vote list on the basis that they should have no say over the area where and lived and shamed but because of the shortness of the sentence they would still be able to participate in NZ life away from any issue there

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  4. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    I thought that three years was chosen because it was the same as the electoral cycle – that is, if the prisoner is to be released during the next parliament, they should have a right to decide who is in that parliament. I also think (but may be wrong) that those serving longer sentances can vote in their final three years.
    For the record I think the status quo should stand.

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  5. MIKMS (166 comments) says:

    …wait, if the prisoners keep the party vote that means Labour will still be in parliament :D

    I’m joking of course :D

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  6. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    time for a bit of good old-fashioned prisoner-bashing..eh farrar..?

    felt like a bit of a break from the sole-parent/benificiary-bashing..?

    ..didya…?

    interesting how this govt really focusses on rebuilding/fixing our economy/creating jobs eh..?

    we are lucky they don’t just engage in class warfare against the poorest/weakest…eh..?

    ..(and enrich themselves in the process..eh..?..eh..?..)

    and we are really lucky they don’t just lurch from moral panic to moral panic…eh…?

    i mean..imagine if they weren’t doing anything else but that ..eh..?

    just sideshows/circus acts..

    seeking out ‘whipping boys’…

    and having the likes of you…

    ‘fomenting’ those moral panics/hatreds..

    eh..?

    that’d be ‘disappointing’…

    ..eh..?..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  7. Repton (769 comments) says:

    # The status quo also has the problem of defending why three years is the right dividing line. Why not four years? Why not seven years? Why not one year?

    This is obvious: because three years guarantees that you will be within your prison term during an election.

    If you were sentenced to two years, for example, then you might be able to vote, or you might not, depending on the timing of your sentence relative to the next election. This effectively means that some people will receive more punishment than others, even if the crimes committed are exactly the same, with the same circumstances and history.

    If you increased the threshold to four years, you would get the same problem: some prisoners would miss one vote, others would miss two. Tying the threshold to a multiple of the electoral cycle means that the consequences of crime will be consistent.

    (of course, the fact that we don’t have legistlated election dates somewhat mucks this up..but barring an early election, it should be pretty consistent)

    [DPF: You overlook parole. Someone in for three years can be out in one year]

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  8. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    For once I agree with Phil.

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  9. Patrick Starr (3,675 comments) says:

    whats the matter? – see your precious watermelon vote disappearing there Phool?

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  10. RRM (9,769 comments) says:

    This leftie endorses DPF submission.

    And not because I WANT to have brown stuff on my nose…

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  11. Nomestradamus (3,249 comments) says:

    Phool:

    Before you criticse DPF for making a select committee submission, as is his democratic right, you’d do well to remember this:

    i have written /commented at length on this subject in whoar.co.nz..
    and would like to appear to make a verbal
    submission..
    thank you..
    phillip ure

    What sort of submission is that?

    *Snigger*

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  12. reid (16,183 comments) says:

    Very droll, Nomestradamus.

    I also believe that the right to vote is part of a person’s liberty

    Personally I think voting is part of one’s humanity, which means it’s much more than a bit of paper every three years.

    Liberty is something I perhaps take for granted too much but I’ve known a life always with it. I guess if you start young, it wouldn’t mean so much, after awhile.

    However, given the fact that these are also human, however bad, personally, I lean the other way, and would give even the worst scum the permanent, inalienable right to vote. Except for Hitler and Stalin. They don’t get one, ever.

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  13. tvb (4,314 comments) says:

    It is a very poor submission that does not even come close to providing a rational intellectual argument to take away a fundamental right. This Bill is being enacted out of spite and it would be more honest if your submission had said that. The difficulty you have in formulating where the line should be drawn under scores my point.

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  14. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    farrar..do you get paid by national to be their agent provoceteur…??

    ‘cos i’m fucked if i can see any rational reason a person should feel so punitive towards those already being punished…

    ..except for some twisted hybrid of spite/revenge…

    so..my asking if you are paid to peddle this bullshit..

    ..actually gives you a slightly higher ‘reason’…

    than just that blind/incoherent spite/revenge…

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

    [DPF: Don't be a idiot and stop smearing me. You can do so on your blog. You're the only one showing spite here.]

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  15. Johnboy (15,903 comments) says:

    Reid:” Waffle, waffle, waffle, etc. etc.—-Except for Hitler and Stalin. They don’t get one, ever.”

    They didn’t need the vote pal. They got to count it. :)

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  16. Visitorfromthebay (7 comments) says:

    Whenever I see a comment here from this “Philu” fellow I wonder why you allow him a forum on your blog. The man is clearly deranged, cannot write a simple English sentence, and is unable to make any kind of coherent argument – try as I might to discern one. He is what the yoof call “a waste of space”….I wonder why you dont use the moderation thingie…..

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  17. AG (1,823 comments) says:

    DPF:

    A few problems with this.

    1. “Countries which have a total ban on prisoners voting are the United Kingdom, Ireland (de facto), Luxembourg, Estonia, Romania, Russia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.”

    True … but you need to look at the European Court of Human Rights decision in Hirst v UK – a decision that binds all of these nations as signatories to the European Convention. In short, the Court found that a complete ban on all prisoners voting is inconsistent with that Convention’s guarantee of the right to vote. So, in the near future, all these nations will be required to change their laws away from what you are recommending NZ move to. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/may/30/europe-pressure-westminster-prisoners-vote.

    2. “Also 48 of the 50 states of the United States (covering 99.4% of the population) ban prisoners from voting.”

    But the US doesn’t have a right to vote. Compared to NZ – see the NZBORA s.12.

    3. “This then brings us to the proposal in the bill. For the ban to apply to any criminal in prison. I believe this to be less arbitrary and a superior dividing line.”

    Differently arbitrary. Two people commit the same crime. One has a stable family support system, so gets sentenced to home detention. The other doesn’t, so gets sentenced to prison. One keeps his/her vote, the other loses it. Similarly, a recidivist burglar gets sentenced to 2.5 years jail the day after an election … meaning she/he gets to vote at the next one. A person who sells a few bags of dak gets sentenced to a month in jail the week before the election … meaning she/he doesn’t. Not sure how this is “less” arbitrary, or “a superior” way to decide who gets to participate in choosing the next government.

    But I know – prisoners are scum, we need to get tough on crime, yadda, yadda, yadda.

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  18. David Farrar (1,883 comments) says:

    AG: Aware of European court rulings and will talk about that in oral submission. If we had an entrenched Bill of Rights then I would be happy to have no laws inconsistent with that. But the BORA is not binding on other laws.

    Regarding arbitrary, all solutions (except no restriction at all) have a degree of arbitrary. I still maintain that the proposal is less arbitrary than the status quo. Under the status quo some people will get out on parole and still get to vote in every election.

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  19. AG (1,823 comments) says:

    DPF:

    Point isn’t whether the NZBORA is legally binding, but rather that our MPs should have pretty damn good reasons for disagreeing with the A-G’s conclusion that this proposal is not a demonstrably justified limit on one of the most fundamental rights that we recognise in our society … a conclusion shared by virtually every court that has looked at this issue in the liberal West (except the USA – but they don’t recognise a right to vote). Seems to me just shrugging off the NZBORA as “not binding” is a bit unprincipled – if these rights really matter, then taking them away from ANYONE (be they prisoners or not) needs really, really good justification.

    That said, “it’s just neater” is not a particularly good justification for removing the right to vote from some 5000-odd people. Seems to me that as there’s arbitrariness wherever you draw the line (and I don’t know how you can straight-faced say it is “less” arbitrary to bar all prisoners from voting than those serving more than 3 years … what is your metric here?), then the status quo rule that disqualifies less people from voting ought to be preferred.

    Finally – if the concern is that some people are just so evil they shouldn’t be allowed to vote (the William Bell problem), then why not amend the Sentencing Act to permit disenfranchisement as an additional, individually applied punishment to mark out particularly serious crimes? ‘Cause under this Bill, a cannabis dealer sentenced to a month in jail the week before an election is deemed to be equally evil/unworthy of the vote as the worst mass murderer. Never mind that after the dealer has served his time (maybe only 10 days or so before getting parole), she or he then re-enters society to live under a government she or he didn’t get to take part in choosing. Surely that seems a bit, well, arbitrary?

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  20. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “…[DPF: Don't be a idiot and stop smearing me....

    how am i 'smearing' you..you get paid lots of money by national/the taxpayers...

    and you use this forumto 'push' their issues..

    where is the smear..?

    i'd have thought your 'fake-benificiary'..sitting on her lawn...drinking beer..and waiting for the pizzas to arrive..

    ..and laughing at her neighbors as they went to work....

    ..that would be the/a benchmark for 'smear';...eh..?

    and we'll be getting lots more of that..eh..?

    as you swing in behind bennett...

    (btw...do you know if bennett is planning on getting any long/hanging earrings...?

    ..just to complete her take on the christine-rankin school of benificiary-kicking...?...)

    "...You're the only one showing spite here.]…”

    ..sorry..?..you are excitedly/wholeheartedly advocating measures to further punish those already being punished…

    ..and i am the one being spiteful..?

    really….?

    i mean..what logical reason..aside from pure spite…drives you to want to take away the right to vote..of prisoners…

    and you know a funny thing farrar…?

    you talk so tough out here/on this forum….eh..?

    but you wouldn’t last five minutes in there…eh..?

    ..and you know that…

    ..eh..?

    you’d better hope the fickle finger of fate never sends you there…eh..?

    ..you’d do it real hard…

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

    [DPF: Phil thinks it is fickle fate that sends people to prison. I think it is because you kill, rape, bash or rob someone]

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  21. Patrick Starr (3,675 comments) says:

    “you talk so tough out here/on this forum….eh..?

    but you wouldn’t last five minutes in there…eh..?”

    ………he wouldn’t have to. He doesnt go around doing armed holdups of chemist shops. He, like most of of us are law abiding and get off our arses and fucken work for a living – you parasite.

    Stop playing the victim all the time- you dealt your own hand, its up to you to fix it!

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  22. dad4justice (8,041 comments) says:

    “but you wouldn’t last five minutes in there…eh..?”

    Just look what damage the dope does. Phool thinks he is a tough boy ’cause he’s been to the lockup. What a distorted stuffed in the head watermelon freak!@!

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  23. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    you don’t know how easy it is to get there..eh..?

    a moments inattention while driving…

    ..could see you facing vehicular manslaughter charges..and jail-time…

    and..um..!..i don’t actually see how i am ‘playing the victim card’…

    where the fuck do you get that from…?

    ..i don’t feel i am a ‘victim’…

    far fucken from it…

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  24. dad4justice (8,041 comments) says:

    Victim card or addiction card??Both I think!

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  25. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..Phool thinks he is a tough boy ’cause he’s been to the lockup…”

    um..!..no..i am a pacifist…..

    self-defence only…me…

    ..but i have been there….

    ..and i have met farrar…

    ..and i know he would ‘do it hard’…

    ..all of which does give a certain/relevant subtext..

    ..to his attacks on prisoners…

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  26. dad4justice (8,041 comments) says:

    Anybody in their right mind would do prison “hard” phool, you should try a stint in the round room, maybe it’ll help you write more sensibly. Pigs do fly just ask a green stoner. Go play the song I fought the law and the law won.In your case I fought the bong and the frightened chemist lost.

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  27. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    some do it a lot harder than others…

    phil(whoar.co.nnz)

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  28. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    How’s the Library?

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  29. dad4justice (8,041 comments) says:

    Is the prison Library still open at this late hour? I will ring Crusher right now and give her a fucking barrel!!

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  30. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    oops..!..

    ..gotta go..!

    ..lobrary closing..!

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  31. Nicola Wood (57 comments) says:

    Hmmmm. I think when you’re taking away such an important right, why you’re doing it has to be clearly defined and justified.

    The Bill say its purpose is to “disenfranchise the most serious offenders”, yet what it is really doing is creating massively unfair situations for some of the LEAST serious offenders (think fine defaulters etc). It also seems really unfair that someone serving a two year sentence not during an election will still be able to vote, but someone in prison for a week when an election happens to be is disenfranchised.

    It just doesn’t seem to serve the purpose it claims to.

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  32. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..[DPF: Phil thinks it is fickle fate that sends people to prison…”

    not always…

    but sometimes…

    ..you just make sure you keep watching that road…

    ..eh..?

    and i note you still haven’t explained how your desire to punish prisoners further..

    ..is just not another manifestation of spite/nastiness-from-a-position-of-privilege…

    ..upon those far less ‘fortunate’..

    (in only some/peripheral ways..i hasten to add..)

    ..a role at which you excel…

    ..as we steel ourselves for your upcoming demonisation of/blitzkreig against … beneficiaries…

    ..eh..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  33. Chicken Little (793 comments) says:

    ಠ_ಠ

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  34. jinpy (237 comments) says:

    Of course it’s merely incidental that most of those in prison would likely vote for Labour, Greens etc.

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  35. MikeNZ (3,234 comments) says:

    Who they vote for is incidental Jnpy
    I am happy that convicted people not be able to vote until there sentence has passed and that would include whilst on parole.

    I view this in exactly the same way I view insolvents not being allowed to exercise the ability to obtain credit nor sign contracts and being under the guardianship of a responsible person until they have been rehabilitated.

    There is no human rights breach in my view as the convicted person has shown they do not consider themselves bound by society’s rules and therefore have abrogated their rights as ordinary members of that society until such time as their sentence ends.
    This could even extend to any other government benefit or scheme.

    Similarly prison should never seem like a home from home ever, in order to emphasise that it is not business as usual and to reinforce that they have lost their rights as members of society because of their behaviour choices.

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  36. flipper (3,941 comments) says:

    DPF

    Your submission is logical if you subscribe to the belief that prison should be an option for almost anything these days.
    Given the disposition of some Euro lawmakers (and our Royal Society, M of Env. and NIWA fools, no doubt) to include prison as an option for being a climate realist, it is probably just a dark, Atkinson-like plot aimed at giving the list (party) more electoral clout.

    What is the point of prison … retribution or to change ways and make for a better society?

    If retribution, you and Quinny are on the same planet (Mars) .
    Otherwise, go read Winston Churchill (circa 1905) on “crime and punishment” in a “civilised” society … or talk to someone like Thomas J. (retd).

    Think about the reverse of (Mars) that DPF. Apart from a few, every inmate will eventually be released.
    Do you want them to buy into society or feel they are foredvedr excluded? If the latter, and given that drug treatment/counselling does not apply to sentences of six months or less, it is no wonder recidivism is currently 75 %.
    Care to go for 99.9 ?

    As for Paul Quinn he should stick to rugby. Quinny once knew something about that (the rugby world of 2010 has passed him by) . Or is he just doing a Nanny State job for Collins / Power (or some other caucus hack)?
    Or, out of left field, is it the Rimutaka branch of the Corrections Trade Union ?

    But finally, DPF, why bother? Your interest in, and knowledge of, electoral law is admired. To make a submission on Quinny’s nonsense it to elevate it a little more than somewhat.

    KBO

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  37. Maggie (674 comments) says:

    You’re going to stay up after midnight to tell the select committee: “I support this bill because I am a rightwing prat”?

    Why bother, we all know that already.

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  38. MikeNZ (3,234 comments) says:

    If we treat Insolvents as if they are children and not able to manage their affairs, why not prisoners?
    indeed why not mental beneficiaries or street people too?

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