Although detained, people in prisons and locked hospitals are still citizens who are affected by government policy and do have the right to elect those who govern them. Prisoners and mental health consumers have family and friends on the outside and when they complete their sentence, they will join the world outside and be affected by government policy. They should have a right to determine what sort of health, housing, social security and jobs are available outside of prisons. Whilst inside they are entitled to receive and send information as their democratic right of expression. Australia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, where Articles 2 and 25 provide that every citizen has the right to vote. Many countries throughout the world give prisoners full voting rights or exempt only those charged with treason.
Prisoners’ Right to Vote (article)
Enrolment to Vote
Many people in prisons and hospitals have the right to vote but do not get enrolled. In 2004 we began a campaign to ensure it happened. In 2015, we reignited the campaign. A proposal was sent to all the states, territories and New Zealand voicing our concern over their inaction in the enrolment to vote campaign. Electoral Commissions are very active removing people from the roll when their sentence is over three years. Special legislation and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) are created to require prison authorities to notify electoral authorities of the entry of every prisoner whatever their sentence or if on remand. That same information could easily be used to initiate enrolment if the person wasn’t on the roll. The proposal outlined ways they could rectify these problems by offering change-of-address forms to give prisoners a postal vote, enrolling them if they are not currently on the electoral roll, and reinstating them to the electoral roll upon release. People in locked hospitals needed their address to be changed, or registered if not on the roll.
Justice Action has completed three reports on the status quo surrounding the enrolment to vote in prisons and hospitals around Australia.
The 2019 Report on the Enrolment to Vote campaign can be viewed here
The 2016 Report on the Enrolment to Vote campaign can be viewed here
The 2013 Report on the Enrolment to Vote campaign can be viewed here