Exclusive: Government to restore prisoner voting rights in time for 2020 Election

1 NEWS can reveal prisoners serving sentences of less than three years will be given back the right to vote.

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Those sentenced to three years or less will now get the right to vote. Source: 1 NEWS

Justice Minister Andrew Little said Cabinet has signed off a decision reversing the prisoner voting ban brought in by National in 2010. The change will see around 1900 prisoners get the ability to vote at next year’s general election.

“It was a nasty little law that was not about the ability for prisoners to stop offending, it was just sort of a kick in the guts,” Mr Little said.

“As a basic principal they should have a right to say who is governing the community that they will be released free into once they’ve completed their sentence.”

It comes after mounting pressure from both the Supreme Court and Waitangi Tribunal.

“When the highest court in the land says you know what this is just a flagrant breach of our Bill of Rights and then when the Waitangi Tribunal says it's not only that it's a breach of the Treaty as well - actually the government of the day has to sit up and take notice.”

Advocate Arthur Taylor launched the legal battle for prisoner voting rights alongside lawyer Richard Francois in 2013.

The pair were “over the moon” when 1 NEWS revealed the government’s decision – saying it’s been a long time coming.

“It's been a hell of a battle but we got there you know,” Mr Taylor said.

“It’s probably how Sir Edmund Hillary felt when he climbed Mt Everest.”  

New Zealand First has in the past been opposed to prisoner voting but Mr Little said the party is on board. “It took a wee while but there were a number of options that Cabinet considered.”

A 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll in October found more than half of voters were in favour of changing the prisoner voting laws. It showed 26 per cent of people thought all prisoners should be able to vote, while 28 per cent thought prisoners serving less than three years should be able to vote.

But Andrew Little has ruled out extending the ban to all prisoners.

“We accept the principal that when you go to prison you do lose some rights… this government will not be extending it to all prisoners no,” Mr Little said.

The government will however introduce automatic enrolment for prisoners serving a sentence of more than three years, which Corrections will facilitate when an inmate leaves prison.  

Mr Little said one of the impacts of the 2010 ban was that prisoners were automatically removed from the electoral roll with many failing to re-enrol upon release.

Lawyer Richard Francois said “the irony is that once they go into prison they're automatically taken off the roll, when they get released they're not automatically put back on it”.

Legislation will be passed early next year with the effected prisoners able to vote in the 2020 General Election.