Thursday, October 6, 2005

european court of human rights on felon voting

from the sentencing project: the european court of human rights ruled today that denying voting rights to prisoners in the UK violates the european convention on human rights. the court held that “any limitations on the right to vote had to be imposed in pursuit of a legitimate aim and be proportionate” and that “any departure from the principle of universal suffrage risked undermining the democratic validity of the legislature.”

i don't know enough about the court's powers or jurisdiction to understand the full implications of this decision (i'm hoping that a great legal mind will step up to set me straight), but here is how the guardian describes the decision:

Laws setting out who can and cannot take part in elections are to be rewritten after the European court of human rights today ruled in favour of giving British prisoners the right to vote ... Britain is among 13 signatories to the human rights convention who prevent prisoners from voting, according to a government survey ... The court - on a majority ruling of 12-5 - said an article in the convention guaranteeing the "free expression of the opinion of the people in choosing a legislature" was not absolute but in a 21st century democracy the presumption should be in favour of inclusion ... The court was set up in 1950 to hear citizens' complaints under the human rights convention and is independent of the European Union.

debates over the voting status of prisoners -- in the UK, australia, and south africa, among other nations -- really draw the restrictiveness of u.s. laws into sharp relief. prisoners are now disenfranchised in 48 of the 50 states (maine and vermont are the only exceptions) and policy debates generally focus on whether non-incarcerated felons (probationers and parolees) and former felons (who have completed their sentences) should be permitted to vote.

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