The Untruths of Prisoner Voting Exposed in Media Interview

Mike Hosking's comments reveal the untruthfulness about prisoner voting.

Low Turnout Rates for Maori Voting

1. At the conclusion of Newstalk ZB's interview with me above, host Mike Hosking made several comments about prisoner voting that were simply not true, not to mention I was not given the opportunity to respond to them. However, there is a benefit in having a forum like this to respond to imbalanced reporting, although it cannot offset the fake news already presented to a relatively large radio audience.

2. Mike says that statistics show the turnout rate for voting in Maori electorates is lower than the national average. He opines, therefore, why should we give Maori prisoners the right to vote because Maori who already live in the community don't vote anyway? However, this issue was dealt with by the Waitangi Tribunal in its Report, which was of course the subject of this interview. The Report provides expert evidence of a “ripple effect” of Maori prisoner disenfranchisement on their whanau and the community. (Refer Waitangi Tribunal Report at pp. ix, 21,23). This explanation is not surprising given the extent of disillusionment ex-prisoners face in the process of reintegration with society including literacy issues, and institutional and bureaucratic problems.

Social Contract Theory and the Justification of Prisoner Disenfranchisement

3. Mike also spoke about a listener who emailed his thoughts to Newstalk ZB apparently invoking social contract theory as a means to justify the blanket ban on prisoner voting. However, punishing all criminals exactly the same way does not fit conceptually with the idea that a social contract exists between us and the State. The idea that everyone who breaks the law must face the State’s retribution for breaching the implied social pact, fails to accommodate the overarching principle of sentencing that everyone should be punished in accordance with the gravity of his or her offending. The blanket ban on prisoner voting treats all offenders the same leading to ludicrous outcomes such as a “fine defaulter” being punished the same as a mass murderer.

4. Social contract theory emerged in the 17th and 18th century through philosophers like Hobbs, Locke and Rousseau. Their justification for removing people from society and imposing a penalty equivalent to a “civil death”, is rather outdated in a free and modern democracy. For Rousseau, it was also a way to justify the death penalty when there was over one hundred crimes attracting that specific sentence. In the era of Locke and company, the criminal trial process also lacked the sophistication to guarantee a fair trial, and the risk of an innocent person sentenced to death was not fully appreciated like it is today. Notwithstanding the rise of humanitarianism in the 19th century, social contract theory's view on crime and punishment continues to find favour with many people today. Others prefer that the State refrain from lowering itself to the level of a criminal.

5. It is unfortunate that none of these issues were actually raised or put to me during ZB’s interview. It could have allowed the audience to listen to a more informed discussion on the subject of prisoner voting. From there, listeners may have been able to think seriously about whether the current law should be amended to allow all prisoners to vote or only those serving a threshold sentence of less than three years imprisonment. This is one of the major issues in domestic politics at the moment.

6. It is also a current issue in the United States as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders supports the right of convicted prisoners to vote while in prison. This has proven to be a divisive matter for other candidates seeking the presidential nomination, and has resulted in direct opposition by President Donald Trump. Refer to the article in the NPR by Ayesha Rascoe entitled “Debate Over Voting Rights For Prisoners Divides 2020 Candidates” 09 May 2019.

Polling on Prisoner Voting – For and Against

7. As far as I know, there is no official poll on the number of people for or against the right of prisoners to vote in elections. There are polls conducted by various radio stations and television shows, which are unlikely to be definitive or reliable in terms of real numbers and statistical significance.

8. Mike Hosking suggested during the interview that a referendum on prisoner voting would go against prisoners. I referred to the fact that Arthur Taylor had been up and down the country speaking to people about prisoner voting and almost everyone was in favour of allowing them to vote. Mike rebutted stating that Arthur had probably been "hanging out with too many crims". The fact is, however, Arthur Taylor had been holding seminars around the country with an audience of lawyers including Queens Counsel. It is also ironic that only an hour before my interview with Mike, I heard Arthur Taylor having a very favourable conversation with Kate Hawkesby. For those who don't know Mike Hosking is married to Kate Hawkesby.

9. Mike also advised his listeners that during my interview I said I have never heard of anyone who is opposed to prisoners voting. This is not true. I did not say that. It reminds me of what Richard Nixon said during Watergate: “You know, I'm glad we tape all these conversations because I never approved the break-in at the Ellsbergs”.

10. The point is we have to get our facts right about prisoner voting particularly as it may be an election issue in 2020 or the subject of a referendum. Everyone (except prisoners it seems) is entitled to vote for or against prisoner voting, but we should at least know the difference between that which is true or false.