Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders says you deserve the right to vote even if you are the Boston Marathon bomber currently serving time in prison. Senator Kamala Harris at first wasn’t too sure, but is now certain you shouldn’t get to vote.
We understand that these two are running for the presidency and the prospect of millions of new left-leaning voters being added to the rolls overnight is tempting. However, allowing convicted felons who are behind bars to vote is disgraceful and an idea that shouldn’t be up for debate.
The question was asked of Senator Sanders during a town hall this week whether convicted felons like sex offenders, terrorists, murders, and even the Boston bomber should be allowed to vote while serving time – not even afterward.
Sanders gave a head-scratching nod of approval:
"I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy…
"Yes, even for terrible people."
"Once you start chipping away and you say, 'Well, that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote. Well, that person did that. Not going to let that person vote,' you're running down a slippery slope," Sanders added.
Kamala Harris was asked for her position, but danced around the issue:
"I think we should have that conversation."
"I agree that the right to vote is one of the very important components of citizenship. And it is something that people should not be stripped of needlessly, which is why I have been a long been an advocate of making sure people formally incarcerated are not denied the right to vote,"
A day later though, the former prosecutor backtracked – likely from backlash over her equivocating on the issue. She clarified her position:
“Do I think that people who commit murder, people who are terrorists should be deprived of their rights? Yeah, I do. I’m a prosecutor.
"There has to be serious consequences for the most extreme types of crimes.”
At least, she got it right, eventually.
As states consider restoring voting rights to former convicts, there is a thoughtful debate about how to reintegrate them into society.
One could make a case for allowing former convicts who have FINISHED serving their time and are productive members of society to seek to have their voting rights restored, but what Bernie Sanders is advocating for is a totally different conversation for several reasons.
First, convicted felons are not low-level offenders like drug offenders. These are likely dangerous individuals who have demonstrated that they pose a harm to society. A serious crime deserves a serious consequence.
Second, they are still serving their time. They haven’t completed their sentence and demonstrated they are reformed.
Third, when one commits a crime as serious as a felony, he or she is deprived of many rights from physical freedom to joining the military to owning a gun. Losing the right to vote is just one of them and an implicit part of the sentence.
In addition, allowing those currently serving time presents residency challenges. What is considered your residential state? Do you get to vote in the state/local elections where you are incarcerated, where you last voted, or where you were registered?
Currently, 48 states and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates from voting while incarcerated for a felony offense. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow them to vote. We have to wonder how many felons enjoy this benefit in these small states compared to how many would qualify in bigger states like California or New York and how that would impact the communities there.
Many view this idea of giving felons the vote while behind bars, just a way to add more left-leaning voters onto the rolls. He admitted that he wants to boost voter turnout (for Democrats).
However, when you’ve committed as serious crimes like murder, sexual offenses, and even terrorism, you have broken the public’s trust. You have not shown penance or finished serving your time, so losing the right to vote is reasonable and those advocating otherwise are being irresponsible.