A common argument for denying inmates the right to vote is that inmates are politically naive and incapable of making an informed decision. However, modern media has enabled interested inmates to become politically well-informed. We should be looking at this as an opportunity to educate and inform our incarcerated citizens in an effort to encourage and facilitate political awareness and involvement.
Others argue that inmates may skew election results, favouring candidates who hold lenient views on crime and justice (Feds take another stab at ending inmates= right to vote, 1997). Even if this were the case, it is unlikely that inmates will have any appreciable effect on election results. There are about 21.7 million persons of majority age in Canada and on any given day, there are 33,785 incarcerated offenders (Correctional Service of Canada, 1997). Therefore, less than 1% of potentially eligible voters are incarcerated offenders, which is not enough to skew an election, particularly since these votes are spread across all the ridings in Canada.
Timing of Sentence
Denying inmates, particularly provincial inmates, the right to vote unfairly distinguishes between those offenders who are currently incarcerated and those who are not. In 1996-97, the median sentence length of a typical provincial inmate was 60 days (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1998, p.10). Most provincial sentences are very short, meaning that the vast majority of provincial inmates will return to the community very quickly, where they will be expected to exercise all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Furthermore, only those offenders in custody on election day are barred from participation in elections, while those in the community on probation, parole and bail are not. Denying inmates the right to vote creates arbitrary distinctions based on the chance timing of a citizen's brief custodial sentence.
Opponents of inmate voting rights often point out the high cost and administrative inconvenience of institutional polls (Irvine, 1987). However, polling methods such as mail-in ballot, voting by proxy and voting within the institution are relatively simple, inexpensive and easily conducted. Therefore, denying inmates the right to vote for administrative or financial reasons is unjustified.