Bernie Sanders says everyone deserves the right to vote — even if you're in jail

By April Siese

/ CBS News

Bernie Sanders reaffirmed his stance on prison voting in an op-ed published Monday by USA Today. The 2020 presidential hopeful and current Vermont senator has vocally supported not just allowing those with prior felony convictions to cast their ballot, but those who are currently incarcerated as well.

"This should not devolve into a debate about whether certain people are 'good enough' to have the right to vote. Voting is not a privilege. It is a right," Sanders wrote.

"In my view, the crooks on Wall Street who caused the great recession of 2008 that hurt millions of Americans are not 'good' people. But they have the right to vote, and it should never be taken away."

The policy should come as no surprise to those in Vermont. As Sanders points out in his opinion piece, it's just one of two states that allow voting for inmates. The Vermont Department of Corrections notes that anyone presently imprisoned in Vermont is eligible to vote so long as they are a Vermont resident, U.S. citizen and at least 18 years of age or older.

"This is not a radical idea. Vermont and Maine allow inmates to vote and more than 30 nations — including Israel, South Africa, and Canada — also understand that voting rights for all citizens is a basic principle of democracy," Sanders wrote.

Sanders points to additional voter suppression tactics, which he claims are being carried out by Republican lawmakers. He cites one such example in Florida, where a recent state constitutional amendment granting voting rights to felons is being challenged by a House bill limiting those rights.

The issue has been brought up in multiple town hall-style events Sanders has participated in, including during a CNN town hall held April 22 that featured fellow 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg stood in opposition to Sanders, arguing that voting rights should only be granted to previously incarcerated citizens who've already completed their sentence.

Other Democratic candidates have been less forceful about their policies. California Senator Kamala Harris said she'd be open to the idea of allowing voting in prisons. Both Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro say they would consider inmate voting if it only if it extended to non-violent offenders.

Speaking with reporters last week, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said she wasn't "there yet" on allowing prison voting. Warren is among four other Democratic candidates who support restoring voting rights to those with felony convictions who have completed their sentences.

First published on April 30, 2019 / 2:16 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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