In the United States whole classes of people are barred from
voting because they are ' convicted felons' – meaning
they have served time in prison. The 14th Amendment of
the US Constitution allows States to disenfranchise people with
Although some US States have dropped bans on felons voting once
they are released from prison, most US States still restrict voting
rights for felons. In twelve States felons are banned from voting
for the rest of their lives.
Virginia recently dropped its lifetime ban, allowing 200,000
felons to vote for the first time. It' s highly political, as
the ban affects black and Hispanic people more than other sectors
of American society, and they tend to vote Democrat. It' s in
the interests of Republican-run states to keep the lifetime
In the 2012 US election six million people were not allowed to
vote as they were felons – 2.5 per cent of all voters and 8
per cent of the potential black vote.
In Britain prisoners on serious criminal convictions are barred
from voting. All prisoners can vote in Ireland, Europe, Japan,
Canada and New Zealand - unless doing time for treason or
In Australia prisoners serving three years or more are barred
from voting, but can vote once they' re released.
"Voting is a basic human right, something our forebears
fought for, and to disenfranchise a person for any reason is a
major step," said Nathan Luke, solicitor at Stacks Law
"Should someone lose the right to participate in the
democratic process because they' ve committed a crime? Or
should they be allowed to participate in the democratic process
because they will rejoin society once they complete their
After Australia' s Federation in 1901 prisoners serving a
sentence of more than one year were denied the right to vote. In
1983 the voting ban was relaxed to inmates serving more than five
In 2006 the Howard government banned all prisoners from voting.
That was overturned by the High Court in 2007.
"The judges ruled the right to vote was protected under the
constitution, but not so for serious crimes. They decided prisoners
serving a sentence of three years or more could not vote, but they
could vote once they complete their sentence," Mr Luke
The irony is that if a prisoner fails to vote in a federal
election they commit another crime. Voting in Australia is
compulsory. Fail to vote without good reason and the fine is $20.
If the matter is dealt with in court the fine can be $170 plus
court costs, and a criminal conviction may be recorded against
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