Paul Quinn’s Electoral (Disqualification of Convicted Prisoners) Amendment Bill appears to be unjustifiably inconsistent with the electoral rights affirmed by s 12 of the Bill of Rights Act. The effect would be a blanket disenfranchisement of convicted persons detained in prisons on election day.
People who are not serious offenders will be disenfranchised. Fine defaulters may be sentenced to imprisonment as an alternative sentence. I doubt that this group of people can be characterised as serious offenders such that they should forfeit their right to vote.
Under the Bill, the Electoral Act would continue to disqualify electors being detained for a period exceeding three years in a hospital or secure facility in the context of a criminal process. An example of this is where a person has been found by a Court on conviction to be mentally impaired and is detained under an order made by the Court for a period exceeding three years. If the mentally impaired person was detained for less than three years, the Bill would not disqualify the person from registering as an elector. The Bill would therefore introduce irrational inconsistencies in the law where mentally impaired prisoners detained in a hospital or secure facility for less than three years could vote while all prisoners serving sentences less than three years in prisons would be disenfranchised.
The blanket ban on prisoner voting is both under and over inclusive. It is under inclusive because a prisoner convicted of a serious violent offence who serves a two and a half year sentence in prison between general elections will be able to vote. It is over inclusive because someone convicted and given a one-week sentence that coincided with a general election would be unable to vote.
The disenfranchising provisions of this Bill will depend entirely on the date of sentencing, which bears no relationship either to the objective of the Bill or to the conduct of the prisoners whose voting rights are taken away. The irrational effects of the Bill also cause it to be disproportionate to its objective.
The above was written by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson. Despite that, he and his National Party will be voting for this “irrational” and “disproportionate” Bill at least through its first reading. The saddest part is that, back in more enlightened days before they were captured by the kneejerking Sensible Sentencing-types, National were the ones who allowed prisoners sentenced to less than three years to vote in the first place after a court case pointed out that blanket disenfranchisement was contrary to the Bill of Rights.
Here’s hoping that the Simon Powers and Chris Finlaysons will have to will-power to stand up to the jackbooted wing of the National caucus before it’s too late.