On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told a CNN town hall that prisoners, including the Boston Marathon bomber, should be allowed to vote: “I believe people commit crimes and they paid the price and they have the right to vote. I believe even if they're in jail they're paying their price to society but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy.” CNN
Fellow Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, however, disagreed: “Enfranchisement upon release is important, but part of the punishment … is you lose certain rights… You lose your freedom. And I don’t think during that time it makes sense to have that exception.” The Hill
The 14th amendment states that voting may not be “in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime.” Legal Information Institute
The left is divided over whether all prisoners, some prisoners, or no prisoners should be allowed to vote.
“Criminal justice reform advocates argue that suffering a Medieval-style ‘civil death’ dehumanizes prisoners, prevents their reintegration into society, and perpetuates inequalities in our political system…
“The policy options are far broader than a single audience question would suggest. In Germany, prisoners can vote unless they were convicted of terrorism or political violence… Other European countries prevent violent criminals, those serving lengthy or life sentences, or war criminals from voting. Exceptions for crimes of dishonesty or fraud might be reasonable as well. In a few countries, only those convicted of misdemeanors can vote, rather than felonies. These are policy debates we should be willing to have.”
Andrew Novak, The Daily Beast
Some argue that “if anything, the political system needs the perspectives of prisoners, with their intimate experience of this otherwise opaque part of the state. Their votes might force lawmakers to take a closer look at what happens in these institutions before they spiral into unaccountable violence and abuse. There are practical benefits as well. Racial disparities in criminal enforcement and sentencing means disenfranchisement falls heaviest on black communities. This is not just a direct blow to prisoners’ electoral power; it also ripples outward, depressing political participation among their friends, families and acquaintances…
“Yes, prisoners have committed crimes, and yes, some of those are egregious. But depriving any citizen of the right to vote should be the grave exception, not a routine part of national life. Universal suffrage means universal suffrage.”
Jamelle Bouie, New York Times
“Perhaps no one lives more subject to the laws of the United States than the American prisoner, and yet he or she has no say in them. Allowing him or her to vote is how we end the dehumanization of incarcerated citizens. Not only will investment of rights resurrect them civilly, prisoners’ participation will ultimately affect policy for the better and make our prisons more humane.”
Chandra Bozelko, NBC News
Others counter, “Our belief in the right to vote is as strong as anyone’s. But losing rights available to the law-abiding is part of felon punishment. This is especially true for murder, where not only is an individual’s life lost, but so too a citizen’s ability to participate in democracy. A life and voter are taken — permanently… Brooklyn-born Bernie would do well to look homeward to find the ideal balance between justice and mercy. Last year, Gov. Cuomo, by executive order restored the voting rights of 35,000 paroled felons. The Legislature should make that fix permanent. But, while locked up on a felony, sorry, you don’t get to vote.”
Editorial Board, New York Daily News
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke writes, “I want to make sure that time spent behind bars does not entail a stripping of your civic and constitutional rights… [but] for violent criminals, it’s much harder for me to reach that conclusion. I feel that, at that point, you have broken a bond and compact with your fellow Americans, and there has to be a consequence in civic life to that.”
Beto O’Rourke, Twitter
The right opposes allowing prisoners to vote.
The right opposes allowing prisoners to vote.
Prisoners do not “have the best interests of the community in mind. The criminal shouldn’t be able to vote for his prosecutor. We don’t need his advice on what’s a crime. The argument for giving felons voting rights when they have been released from prison is different. Released prisoners have paid their penalty, it’s said. Let them have a fresh start. But if someone is still in jail he hasn’t paid his penalty. He is still paying it… Felons aren’t permitted to own guns, because we rather suspect they wouldn’t be putting them to good use. The same can be said for their voting rights.”
F.H. Buckley, New York Post
“There’s a rational argument to be made for allowing Americans who have served their time and paid their debt to society to fully participate in American political life. Certainly those who’ve never committed violent crimes shouldn’t have to surrender their civic rights forever. The notion that incarcerated murderers should be weighing in on gun laws or that child molesters should have a say on local school bond issues or that a terrorist’s vote should have an effect on American foreign policy, however, undercuts the liberal contention that casting a ballot is a sacred act.”
David Harsanyi, The Federalist
“Voting is an important right of American citizens, but it’s predicated on the commitment we all make to the social compact. Just like freedom is only guaranteed when you don’t break the agreement, as defined by our laws. The moment you decide our laws, and the compact, do not apply to you, neither do certain rights accorded to law-abiding citizens, like personal freedom and the right to vote.”
Tammy Bruce, Washington Times
“Prison sentences are imposed as punishment for having harmed the community in some significant fashion, and that punishment has to mean deprivation of the ability to choose leadership in the community at least as long as the punishment lasts… And for those who will never get out of prison… [they] are people who are paying for heinous injuries and insults to the community, and who therefore forfeit any moral claim to participate in its body politic.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air
“Are you comfortable with your vote being diluted by the votes of the Boston Marathon bomber, the Unabomber, or turncoat spy Robert Hanssen? Isn’t it understandable that lots of women (and men) would be bothered by restoring the voting rights of Olympic Park and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph? Isn’t it understandable that lots of African-Americans (and everyone else!) would be irked at the thought of restoring the vote of the Charleston church shooter? It would be odd to assert that putting someone in solitary confinement is appropriate but not allowing that person to vote is somehow unjust.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review
“Prisons are often located in rural, low-population areas. The Louisiana State Penitentiary has 6,300 prisoners and is located in West Feliciana Parish, a county with only 12,888 non-prisoner adults. With 33 percent of potential voters easily located in one place, local candidates are going to spend a lot of time campaigning at the prison… Criminals shouldn’t cast deciding votes that overrule the policy preferences of law-abiding Americans.”
John Lott Jr., National Review
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