Leading article: Free votes

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The Independent Online

Those who believe that the European Court of Human Rights has a malign influence on law enforcement in Britain are indignant that the Government may allow prisoners to vote, following a ruling from the court in Strasbourg.

But why should prisoners be disenfranchised? One argument is that offenders have broken an implied contract with the state and so forfeited their civil rights. This happens in many authoritarian countries. It also happens in many US states, where prisoners are struck from the electoral roll during, and often for some time after serving, their sentences. But the effect is profoundly undemocratic: as we saw in the 2000 US election, the ban disproportionately affects black Americans.

Ministers should stop stalling and comply with the ruling. By exercising their vote, prisoners can reconnect in a small way with the rest of society. As for the result, prisoners are outnumbered by free citizens several hundred times over.

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