A senior politician has given a group of students calling for prisoners to be allowed to vote a grilling about the accused Christchurch gunman.

A parliamentary select committee is taking submissions on the Government's proposed changes to electoral laws – which would allow for voting in supermarkets and make changes to early voting rules.

As part of a school project, a group of 17 and 18-year-old sociology students from Wellington High School made a case for revoking a ban on voting by prisoners, citing the Bill of Rights Act, Supreme Court rules and studies showing Māori were disproportionately affected by the ban.

"For a country that derives much of its pride from being the first to give women the vote it seems contradictory to continue denying prisoners to have a say in a system which they are part of," student Ronan Dyer told MPs.


"Giving a prisoner a vote shows they are still connected to the greater community … It's just one more step on the path to rehabilitation."

After congratulating the teens on their submission, National MP Nick Smith launched into a line of questioning about the man charged with the March 15 Christchurch mosque shootings.

"Why should someone like [the accused] … ever be able to exercise the right?" Smith asked.

The Green Party's Golriz Ghahraman also attended the select committee to ask for prisoners to be allowed to vote. Photo / Boris Jancic
The Green Party's Golriz Ghahraman also attended the select committee to ask for prisoners to be allowed to vote. Photo / Boris Jancic

Sophie Mance, 17, replied that what had happened in Christchurch was "heinous" but the focus of the proposal was on those who could be rehabilitated.

"We want so many others, who have committed far more minor crimes and are receiving a huge punishment for them have the opportunity to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society," she said.

Smith continued, saying he wanted to test the teens, with: "So you would defend his right to be able to be able to participate?"

"I would defend the right of everyone to have the right to vote in our democracy," Mance said.

Afterwards, the teens were unfazed and said they had been warned Smith often asked hard questions in select committees. The questioning had allowed them to further explain their submission, they said.


In a statement, Smith later said it was important to listen to young people, but not patronise them.

"We do our youth a disservice if we agree with them in public session but then ignore them when we make our decisions in a close session," he said.

"It is more honest to put the alternative arguments and get their response."

Smith later put the same questions to Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, who was also submitting on the same issue.

"This isn't about [the accused]. This is about the integrity of the criminal justice system," Ghahraman said as Smith objected over her with: "You are defending his right to vote".

"If you go by one case and you change the law based on one person's abhorrent acts, and you undermine the human rights basis of our entire justice system, where do you stop?" Ghahraman answered.

The Green Party is supporting the Government's electoral reforms but wants them to go further, with a ban on foreign political donations, a cap domestic ones and make it easier for smaller parties to get into Parliament.