Working, studying and other activities on the inside

Voting in elections

Do I have the right to vote while I’m in prison?

Electoral Act 1993, ss 80, 81, 86A-86E; Prison Operations Manual, F.03; Electoral (Registration of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Act 2020

If you are serving a sentence of less than 3 years you are entitled to vote while in prison. You can also vote if you are on remand.

If you are serving a sentence of 3 years or more, you are disqualified from being registered to vote until you’re released. If you’re released before the election, you can vote in the election. This means that even if you will be released shortly after an election, you still can’t vote if your sentence was 3 years or longer.

If you are serving a sentence that’s less than 3 years or are about to be released, the prison must ask you if you want your details passed on to the Electoral Commission for registration.

The prison must also identify all prisoners who are not eligible to vote and pass this information on to the Electoral Commission.

You must be 18 or older to vote (but you can enrol to vote when you turn 17).

I thought the right to vote had been taken away?

Before 2010 most prisoners were allowed to vote. In 2010 there was a law change that removed the right to vote for most prisoners. only remand prisoners were allowed to vote. The law was heavily criticised.

A Waitangi Tribunal report found that banning prisoners from voting disproportionately affects Māori prisoners and is inconsistent with the Treaty of Waitangi and the Supreme Court held that the law was inconsistent with the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990. On 29 June 2020 the law was changed back to the pre-2010 status.

Being registered to vote

You need to be registered (enrolled) on the electoral roll to be able to vote.

When you arrive at prison for a sentence less than 3 years long, you must be asked if you want your details passed on to the Electoral Commission for registration.

If your sentence is more than 3 years long, the prison has to let the Electoral Commission know that you are in prison. When you are due for release, you must be asked if you want your details passed on to the Electoral Commission for registration.

If you’re not already registered you can call the Electoral Commission free of charge on 0800 36 76 56. You can also enrol online at The prison also has a duty to provide suitable facilities where electoral staff can visit the prison and register prisoners. Sometimes electoral staff will visit a prison before an election to register anyone who’s unregistered, but this will depend on the electoral staff for the particular area.

If you’re already registered you’ll need to let the Electoral Commission know that you’re currently being held in prison. The prison is supposed to do this when you first arrive at prison. You can also do this when electoral staff visit the prison or you can contact the Electoral Commission and ask for an enrolment form.

How do I find out about who I can vote for?

Pamphlets and other written material published by political parties are supposed to be made readily available for you to see in prison. You’re also allowed to watch and hear the TV and radio announcements by political parties, as long as these take place during your normal listening or viewing hours. In practice, TV will probably be the most easily available form of information on the election.

Election candidates aren’t allowed to visit the prison to speak to you about election issues.

How do I vote?

The prison has to provide suitable facilities to allow all eligible prisoners to vote.

The prison must inform the Electoral Commission of who is eligible to vote, and you must be given the opportunity to vote. However, it’s best to be pro-active and speak directly to the PCO or a prison officer in your unit to make sure that the Voting forms get to you. Make it clear that you want to vote in the election – don’t just sit back and hope that it happens.

What if I’m in segregation or have had privileges taken away?

You’re still allowed to vote and you must be given an opportunity to vote. You should make it clear to the prison staff that you’re able to vote and want to do so.

What if the prison didn’t give me a chance to vote?

If you’re entitled to vote and for some reason you haven’t been given the opportunity to vote, you can complain to the Ombudsman. You should also write to the local Electoral Commission office to tell them. See “Support” for contact details

End of Chapter

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