As a Liberal the prisoner voting issue that has dominated this weeks political discourse is a tricky one. The arguments against giving prisoners the right to vote are obvious: having committed a crime felt to be serious enough to deserve a period of time spent outside of normal society, it follows that while someone is inside that they shouldn’t be able to influence what’s happening outside. Its perfectly reasonable to argue that in principle the punishment of imprisonment should be accompanied by the loss of voting rights; that the inability to vote reminds prisoners of their debt to society and reminds the rest of the citizenry that the vote is something to be cherished; something bound up with being free.
Meanwhile its also reasonable to argue that allowing prisoners to vote helps to keep the incarcerated in touch with normal civil society, or giving inmates an opportunity to influence the policies of the government, which directly impact on their lives inside jail. As Liberals and Libertarians we can’t ignore the principle that the only reason the state can claim any kind of jurisdiction over any individual is that they have a vote.
So is voting a Human Right? The right to vote or suffrage is part of being a citizen. Prisoners lose some civil rights when the get locked up, namely that of freedom. But they don’t lose their citizenship. Unless they get deported too. Part of the reason for locking criminals up is to keep the dangerous ones away from the rest of society but also to punish such transgressors. But not all prisoners are dangerous to society, so should we be denying suffrage to all prisoners? I think not.
I think the best compromise in this case is to allow decisions on suffrage to be made by the judge on a case by case basis. Alternatively, it could be decided on the length of the sentence, or the severity of the crime.