Letting prisoners vote 'not going to make a huge amount of difference'

The head of a penal reform group says letting prisoners vote is the right thing to do, but won't make much difference to the makeup of Parliament.

A Green Party Member's Bill hopes to restore prisoners' right to vote. Up until 2010 inmates serving sentences under three years retained the right to vote - that was stripped by then-National MP Paul Quinn's Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Act.

National and ACT voted for it, while Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party, Progressive and United Future were opposed.

Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Mike Williams says prisoners should be given this right back.

"It's just a movement towards being a more normal life. It's a very small movement, and we have had sentenced prisoners voting in the past."

He says it'll add only 7000 more votes, so won't have a big impact on who gets into Parliament and who doesn't.

"The jail population it's about 10,000 - 3000 of those are remand prisoners who [already] have the vote, so it's not going to make a huge amount of difference."

National leader Simon Bridges is dead against letting prisoners vote, no matter how small the effect on Parliament.

"You do the crime, you do time. It's pretty simple, isn't it?" he told The AM Show on Monday.

"You go to prison, you lose some freedoms - and one of them is voting. Golriz Gharhaman might want to go to prisons for votes - I don't. 

Māori roll changes questioned

Mr Williams disagrees however with the part of Golriz Ghahraman's Bill which would allow voters of Māori descent to change roll type at any time, rather than just once every five years.

"Swapping people from one roll to another will become an electoral strategy - in my view a very negative one."

Golriz Ghahraman
Golriz Ghahraman. Photo credit: The AM Show

The Bill would also lower the electoral threshold to 4 percent, from the current 5 percent, as recommended by an Electoral Commission review of the MMP system conducted in 2012.

"New Zealand proudly has a strong democratic system, our MMP system is rightly representative," Ms Ghahraman, who scraped in on the Green Party list after the special votes gave her party an extra seat, said on Sunday.

 "In saying this, there is definitely room for improvement to ensure we have the best democratic system possible and that access is fair."