Sanders: Prisoners Should Vote
As many states contemplate restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentence, a leading Democrat wants to go further.
As many states contemplate restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentence, Senator Bernie Sanders thinks we should go much further and allow them to vote while incarcerated.
While Iowa struggles on whether to restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences, Sen. Bernie Sanders said people convicted of felonies should never lose access to the ballot box in the first place.
At a town hall meeting in Muscatine’s West Middle School gymnasium Saturday, the Vermont senator was asked whether the imprisoned should have the right to vote. Only his home state and Maine allow felons to vote from behind bars.
“I think that is absolutely the direction we should go,” he said.
While most states disenfranchise felons, Sanders said the convicted still have a right to participate in elections. “In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” he said. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”Des Moines Register, “In Iowa, Bernie Sanders says states should allow felons to vote from behind bars”
In this regard, Sanders stands out from his closest ideological rival in the race.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was asked about the issue during a recent forum on rural issues in Storm Lake. She said felons who have served their time deserve the franchise. But Warren stopped short of saying those in prison should be able to vote.
“While they’re incarcerated, I think that’s something we can have more conversation about,” she said.
While it seems obvious that taxpaying citizens who have paid their debt to society ought to have their voting rights restored, it’s a harder call for those still serving their sentence. Not only have they failed to live up to their basic obligations as citizens but it’s simply not true that they are “still living in American society.” Indeed, the whole point of incarceration is to separate them from society.
At the local level, the effects of this could be bizarre, indeed. A small community that houses a penitentiary could theoretically have its affairs governed by the inmates.
From the standpoint of politicians, this unfortunately tends not to be a discussion about human rights or philosophy but rather one of partisan advantage. Because those serving felony sentences are disproportionately black and Hispanic, and those groups vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, support for even the restoration of rights for those who have paid their debt breaks down along party lines.