Prisoners and the right to vote

Kyla Herrmannsen


Prisoners in South Africa are, according to law, allowed to cast their votes in elections. A landmark 1999 ruling by the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court, ruled that “The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts.” Hence, even prisoners are awarded the right to make their mark.

But, unlike South Africa, many countries curb the rights of prisoners to vote. Debate raged in the United Kingdom for many years where a blanket ban on inmates voting was eventually ruled unlawful by the European Court of human rights. This despite David Cameron stating, “I see no reason why prisoners should have the vote. This is not a situation that I want this country to be in. It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison.”

Currently, Nigerian lobbyists are trying to overturn the ban on prisoners voting in a bid to win prisoners voting rights in time to participate in the upcoming 2015 national elections.

Read more about the disenfranchisement of inmates and conversely, the overturning of bans on prison voting here:

Prisoners will vote in 2014 elections

Prisoners to register to vote

The voting rights of incarcerated Australian citizens

Zambia: ‘No Voting for Prisoners’

Can vote in Scotland and Wales – viewed as contravention of human rights to deny prisoners a chance to vote

UK: Prisoner John Hurst crusaded to win inmates the right to make their mark

UK obliged to allow some prisoners to vote

States grapple with voting status of felons

Prisoners barred from voting in India (video)

Denying prisoners the vote is unlawful and uncivilised


About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

One Response to Prisoners and the right to vote

  1. Unfortunatey the SA government continue to discriminate against their citizens held in foreign prisons. Note the responce from IEC and DIRCO The Electoral Amendment Act 2013 was published on 26 November 2013 and the amended Regulations governing registration abroad was published on 6 December 2013 in Government Gazette No. 37132.

    In terms of the Electoral Amendment Act, the IEC issued a media release on 7 November 2013 stating inter alia that “South African citizens will have to register IN PERSON at one of South Africa’s Embassies, High Commissions or Consulates-General only”.

    Quoting in response from the Electoral Commission “Practically, this means that those who intend to apply to register and vote abroad will need to do so at RSA Embassies, High Commissions, and Consulates. This includes RSA citizens who are incarcerated abroad.

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