Bernie’s ‘All Prisoners Should Vote’ Idea Not Popular with Public or Democrats, Polls Find

Vote Rights Florida Felons
Associated Press

One of the topics turning out to be controversial leading up to the 2020 presidential election is voting rights – a cause Democrats are usually eager to embrace. No so for presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who wants every incarcerated person to retain the right to vote — even those who have committed heinous crimes like the Boston Marathon bombings.

The leftwing website Vox made an effort to explain where Sanders and his Democrat rivals stand on the issue and concluded that the idea that everyone behind bars should be able to vote is not popular with the public and even most Democrats. 

“In a USA Today op-ed, [Sanders] defended his position, arguing that “the right to vote is an inalienable and universal principle that applies to all American citizens 18 years and older. Period,’” Vox reported.

“Since Sanders was first asked, other Democratic candidates have been questioned about their stances,” Vox reported. “Most other candidates have yet to say that prisoners should be given the right to vote, instead defending the right to vote only for nonviolent offenders or people who completed their sentences. Some appear undecided.”

Vox noted that only two states — Sanders’ Vermont and Maine — allow incarcerated people to vote. In Florida, voters approved a measure to allow people who have completed their sentences to vote, although some additional requirements have recently been passed in the state legislature.

“What Sanders is calling for, though, goes much further, enfranchising literally hundreds of thousands or millions of people across the country — in a way that could especially benefit black voters,” Vox reported. “But the discussion has shown there are limits to how far even some Democrats — let alone the public — are willing to go in expanding voting rights.”

Vox reported:

A recent poll from the Hill and Harris X found that 69 percent of registered voters — and 61 percent of Democrats — said people who are incarcerated for a felony shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Another poll by YouGov found that 65 percent of Americans disagree with Sanders’s statement that all prisoners, including “terrible people” like the Boston Marathon bomber, should be allowed to vote.

Most of the other Democrat candidates aren’t falling in line behind Sanders on this issue. Presidential hopeful and Mayor Pete Buttigieg said in a CNN report:

I do believe that when you are out, when you have served your sentence, then part of being restored to society is that you are part of the political life of this nation again — and one of the things that needs to be restored is your right to vote. But part of the punishment when you’re convicted of a crime, and you’re incarcerated, is you lose certain rights, you lose your freedom. And I think during that period it does not make sense to have an exception for the right to vote.”

Former House Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) sliced and diced the idea in a CNN article included in the Vox analysis.

“I would think especially for nonviolent offenders that we rethink removing the right to vote and allow everyone, or as many as possible, to participate in our democracy,” O’Rourke said. “For violent criminals, it’s much harder for me to reach that conclusion.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said in Huffington Post report:

Once someone pays their debt to society, they’re out there expected to pay taxes, they’re expected to abide by the law, they’re expected to support themselves and their families. I think that means they’ve got a right to vote. While they’re still incarcerated, I think it’s a different question. And I think that’s something that we could have more conversation about.

“Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) similarly said, ‘I think we should have that conversation,’” Vox reported.

“There may be some political incentives for Democrats to embrace Sanders’s views on prisoner voting rights, though,” Vox reported. “The research indicates that letting people convicted of felonies vote could disproportionately benefit Democrats.”

“But, at least for now, most of the public, Democrats, and the presidential candidates are not on board,” Vox concluded.

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