Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Opinion: Nobody should remove your right to vote, ever...

There was a good piece in the Lib Dem Voice yesterday regarding the forthcoming debate/future legislation of allowing prisoners the right to vote.

I was surprised at the headline to begin with "Opinion: In favour of allowing prisoners the vote".  This surprised me because I thought that the position would be obvious and a blog on the subject wouldn't really be necessary.  It wasn't until I read the comments and other relevant articles that I realised just how much opposition there is to this.

Part of the opposition seems to be of the childish kind, opposing just because the change appears to be forced on us by the European Court of Human Rights.  Whilst I can understand the frustration at laws being dictated by people other than those we democratically elect opposing for just this reason is ridiculous.

Regarding the actual matter it is my opinion that nobody should remove your right to vote, ever.  It is my belief that every adult should have a say in the laws that they are governed by and this is the basis of a free and fair democracy.  In 2005 Labour were elected with a majority having received just 35% of the vote (22% of the total eligible to vote).  This left them free to create any laws that they collectively wished, which could be used to silence opposition or to punish something that the majority of people deemed acceptable.  By allowing prisoners the vote this still allows them their say in the laws that they are being punished by rather than just being silenced.  Take the US's anti drugs legislation as an example, this has probably helped the Republican party for years as many of whom are punished under the legislation would lean to the Democrat side.

There is also a the following potential scenario (detailed in the comments):
"Consider three prisoners: Alan, Bernadette and Chris. All three were found guilty of identical crimes, let’s say petty theft / shoplifting, and sentenced to three months in jail. Alan served his sentence starting on 1/1/2010, Bernadette served hers starting on 1/6/2010 and Chris served his starting on 1/3/2010. Three identical prisoners, three identical crimes, three identical sentences: yet Chris lost his general election vote and the other two didn’t. Meanwhile Derek, who went to prison for three years starting 1/1/2007 for an unprovoked knife assault, kept his vote."

This shows how arbitrary a situation can be.  I think this scenario is generally why people are finding giving the vote to short term prisoners more palatable and would be a compromise.  I obviously don't believe there should be a compromise, every person should have this right (Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandella were both once prisoners) and be able to have there say.  I believe this was on the Liberal Democrat manifesto for 2005 and still remains party policy, which I hope, being in Government we are able to enact or at least put pressure on David Cameron, who has been a bit queasy with the suggestion.

The Economist also puts forward a strong case, I think the final sentence is particularly pertinent:

"Even those who don’t care much about prisoners’ rights should be wary of elected officials exercising too much say over who makes up the electorate."

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