Friday, 3 June 2022

Voting Rights of Prisoners

 Voting rights of prisoners

By Shagun Mahendroo

Around 90 crore Indian people (Economic Times 2019) were eligible to vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but about four lakh were denied the right to vote.

These citizens are detainees who have been denied the right to vote under Section 62(5) of the 1951 Representation of Peoples Act: 

  • No person shall vote in any election while incarcerated in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment, transportation, or otherwise, or while in the lawful custody of the police: provided, however, that nothing in this sub-section shall apply to a person subjected to preventive detention under any law for the time being in effect.

  • India, which is often referred to as the world's "biggest democracy," has been denying its four lakh eligible voters the most basic right to vote. India is one of the only countries in the world that has a blanket ban on all convicts. Detainees, undertrials, and convicts are all affected by such a prohibition. Only those on bail are eligible to vote (Election Commission of India 2019).

In the last 70 years, this topic has received little attention. While rejecting a plea seeking the right to vote for prisoners, the Supreme Court of India (SC) (AIR 1997 SC 2814) gave the following reasons for the ban:

  • Resource constraints, as allowing everyone in prison to vote would necessitate the deployment of a considerably larger police force and more stringent security measures.

  • An individual who is incarcerated as a result of his own actions cannot claim the same level of liberty.

  • To keep those with criminal records out of the election process.

However, several of our legislators are facing criminal charges, which is ironic (Beniwal and Kumaresan 2019). In 2018, inmates in the United States (US) planned a nationwide strike, with one of their demands being that they be granted the right to vote (IWOC 2018).

"All individuals serving prison sentences, pretrial prisoners, and 'ex-felons' must have their voting rights counted. It is necessary to have representation. Every voice matters." One of the detainees was cited as saying: "I'll pay my taxes, but I won't be able to vote because I won't be prepared. It informs me that I am not a true citizen... I won't be able to participate in the political process or influence the country's destiny " (Pilkington 2018).

Undertrials should be allowed to vote. This is because there are many people, awaiting trial, who have spent more time in prison than the actual term their alleged crime merits. Their numbers are much bigger than convicts.

Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, the Baltic States, and Spain are among the European countries that allow prisoners to vote.

Romania, Iceland, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Cyprus, and Germany have chosen a medium ground: voting is permitted but subject to specific restrictions and limitations, such as the length of time served in prison.

They are only disenfranchised as a result of the seriousness of the offence. Anyone serving a sentence of less than ten years is eligible to vote in Bulgaria. The time limit in Australia is five years.

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