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Kenyan Prisoners Allowed to Vote in Constitutional Referendum

When Kenya was torn apart by bloody civil strife following contested national elections in December 2007, it was not apparent that the political chaos could lead to the reform of prisoners’ voting rights. Yet that is exactly what happened.

To end the violence, the two main political parties agreed to share power and draft a new constitution with greater checks on executive authority, recognition of the United Nations human rights charter, land reform, and creation of a second parliamentary house. The new constitution was drafted and put to a national referendum on August 4, 2010.

Kenyan prisoners traditionally have been disenfranchised. However, prisoners at Shimo La Tewa prison in Mombassa filed a court petition requesting the right to vote in the referendum. The court ruled in June 2010 that they should have that right, and designated every prison as a polling station. Then the rush was on to register Kenya’s 50,000 prisoners in time for the referendum.

“It is a credible decision,” said Kenya National Commission on Human Rights member Hassan Omar Hassan. “The punishment is supposed to be reformative and when people are incarcerated they lose their freedom but other rights should stay.”

Kenya’s new constitution was approved by about 67% of the citizens who voted in the referendum – including prisoners, who were able to vote for the first time.

While this shows progress in the East African nation, in the United States only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow convicted prisoners to vote.

Sources: BBC,

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