Prisoners to have voting rights restored before 2020 election

Justice Minister Andrew Little has revealed some prisoners will have their voting rights restored so they can vote in the 2020 election.

He plans to allow people sentenced to less than three years in prison to vote, returning the law to how it was pre-2010 when the National Party removed voting rights from all sentenced prisoners.

"We plan to make this change in an Electoral Amendment Bill before the next election, so that people sentenced to less than three years imprisonment can participate in the 2020 election," Little says.

"This threshold of a three-year jail sentence means those prisoners will be able to vote on the Government that will be in power when they are released."

The law will also be changed so that longer-term prisoners will be enrolled on release.

"This will ensure people sentenced to three years or more in prison can re-engage with the democratic process as easily as possible," Little says.

The announcement follows a report from the Waitangi Tribunal that the 2010 law disproportionally impacts Māori prisoners and is inconsistent with the Treaty of Waitangi.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled the legislation was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights. A complaint was also lodged with the United Nations in January over the present Government's inaction on righting the alleged wrong.

Minimal effect on Parliament

Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Mike Williams told Newshub in March restoring short-term prisoners' rights to vote wouldn't have an impact on the make-up of Parliament, as it will only add about 7000 votes to the pool - just 0.25 percent of the 2.6 million that voted in 2017.

"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 told Newshub in March he was 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.