85% of Lib Dem members back votes for prisoners

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 550 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Majority favour votes for some (but not all) prisoners

LDV asked: The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the British Government cannot maintain its blanket ban on prisoners being disqualified from voting. What is your view?

    30% – I support votes for all prisoners
    55% – I support votes for some categories of prisoners (eg, for non-violent offences and/or in the lead-up to release from prison)
    13% – I do not support any prisoners having the vote
    1% – Don’t know

An overwhelming 85% of Lib Dem members in our survey support prisoners being given the right to vote — however, a clear majority (55%) would restrict that right to certain categories of prisoner. Just 13% of party members support the continuation of the blanket ban on prisoners being able to vote that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled illegal. Here’s a sample of your comments…

Having the vote taken away should be par for the course for serious crimes and as something to do when sentencing, but a blanket ban for all offenses (including politically motivated crimes or protests) is wrong.

The right to elect those who govern should be a fundamental right. A prisoner is entitled to be represented by his MP, so he should be entitled to vote for him. The exception would be those who will never be released.

If the proven activities are sufficient for a custodial sentence, then the rights of citizenship have been rejected.

Support as long as they vote in their ‘home’ areas – it would distort things if prisoners voted in the area where the prisons are located.

What are people afraid of here? Prisoners are still entitled to a say. Their sentence is to deny them their freedom, but not their freedom of expression. Other countries don’t seem to have a problem with this, why should we?

I do not believe those who have who have been sentenced for a criminal act against persons or property should have the right to vote.

Voting – an essential part of belonging to society, and hence of rehabilitation. Taking away the vote takes away any interest in the outside world to which prisoners will one day return.

Voting should only be for those in gaol for a sentence that could have been non-custodial. But if Parliament votes again to have a blanket ban that should be respected. You give up the human right to liberty when commiting a crime, so it is not unreasonable to lose that right too.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 550 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 28th and 31st October.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
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  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    11 Comments

    • Robert Evans 6th Nov '12 - 10:01am

      Do Liberals ever back an issue which has the support of the UK public ?

    • The right to vote is balanced by the right of society to pass judgement on individuals. Voting rights confer legitimacy upon the social organisation and therefore confer legitimacy on the judicial process, this is why I am not keen to see prisoners’ voting rights removed.

      Are these rights currently removed? Obviously prisoners are not let out to vote in person, but is there any specific process by which they are removed from the electoral register? If anyone knows, please respond.

      I have the suspicion that a few prisoners may well have voted by one means or another, but it has passed unremarked (as it should do).

    • This is in practice such a non issue – the effect of prisoner voting is close to insignificant. Arguments that prisoners should not have the vote seem pretty much with arguments years ago that they should not be provided colour televisions.

      As it happens there are clear philosophical reasons why they should have the vote, but this is all abstract theory; in practice, it is unclear to me that prisoners are systematically denied the vote.

      Does anyone actually have information on this? Is there any mechanism for removing prisoners from the voting register?

    • Martin – I don’t think the problem is with prisoners being removed from the electoral register. It’s more to do with them not being able to pop down to the polling station, surely?

    • Robert Evans – you could phrase your question the other way round. Does the British public ever support liberal (Lib Dem) policies? Answer – of course they do, but certain aspects of liberalism many people find hard to swallow.

      Martin / Sid Cumberland – I don’t think District Councils etc send to prison addresses for registration purposes either. I am sure Martin’s theory can be checked – in terms of active LDs who have done short periods of porridge, have their spouses etc managed to get postal votes into them if they are already registered at home??

    • Section 3(1) of the RPA 1983 says: “A convicted person during the time that he is detained in a penal institution in pursuance of his sentence or unlawfully at large when he would otherwise be so detained is legally incapable of voting at any parliamentary or local government election”
      And as the electoral register only has names that are eligible to vote local authorities would remove them and investigate cases where a postal vote was being sent to a prison or anything that aroused suspicion.

    • Thank you Liz,at least that clears up that prisoners are not supposed to vote (by whatever means), however it does not seem to me that there is a specific process to take prisoner off the electoral lists and I doubt that local authorities are in much of a position to systematically vet these lists.

      I cannot imagine that it is remotely a significant problem, but would be surprised if someone somewhere has not managed to ‘beat the system’.

    • “If the proven activities are sufficient for a custodial sentence, then the rights of citizenship have been rejected.”

      What, all of them? That seems a strange thing for a liberal to say.

    • It’s a self-perpetuating system when those not currently in prison are permitted exclusive control over the laws that cause a person to be sent/remain there: I wonder how many people can think of a nation, past or present, in which they would consider the breaking of certain laws heroic rather than barbaric. Let’s not have the arrogance to assume our sense of right and wrong is correct while denying a voice to those most likely to disagree with us.

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