Sen. Bernie Sanders is the first 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who supports enfranchising people who are currently incarcerated.
Other Democratic candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have said they support enfranchising people returning from incarceration, but have only said that prisoners voting should be part of the "conversation."
Following the comments, Republicans have painted Sanders’s idea as "radical."
2020 Democrats across the board are in support of giving people convicted of felonies the right to vote after leaving prison, but Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday took the idea a step further and separated himself from the rest of the field.
The Vermont senator is the only candidate vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination who supports enfranchising people who are currently behind bars, regardless of their crimes.
Much like the issue of reparations for descendants of slaves, this topic has driven a wedge between 2020 Democrats.
During a CNN town hall on Monday, Sanders was asked if he’d even support voting rights for rapists or people like the Boston marathon bomber.
"If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they’re going to be punished. They may be in jail 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, their whole life," Sanders said in response. "That’s what happens when you commit a serious crime."
"But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away…you’re running down a slippery slope," Sanders added. "I believe even if they are in jail, they’re paying the price to society, that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy."
"This is a democracy, we have to expand that democracy," Sanders added as he accused Republicans of working to disenfranchise certain groups.
Sen. Kamala Harris, who also participated in Monday’s CNN town hall, said she supports re-enfranchising people after they’ve served time.
When asked if she supports enfranchising people who are currently behind bars, Harris did not go as far as Sanders declaration but did say "we should have that conversation."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts addressed the issue at a town hall in Iowa in late March and seems to be on the same page as Harris.
"Once someone pays their debt to society, they’re out there expected to pay taxes, expected to abide by the law, they’re expected to support themselves and their families," Warren said. "I think that means they’ve got a right to vote."
"While they’re incarcerated, I think that’s something we can have more conversation about," she added.
Meanwhile, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, during Monday’s town hall said he does not support voting rights for currently incarcerated people but does condone enfranchising them after release.
"Part of the punishment when you’re convicted of a crime and incarcerated, is you lose certain rights, you lose your freedom," Buttigieg said. "And I think during that time it does not make sense to make an exception for the right to vote."
"For years, the right to vote for millions of Americans — disproportionately in communities of color — has been under assault," Booker said in a statement last week. "It is time for a new Voting Rights Act to finally put an end to systematic attempts to limit access to the ballot box and strip citizens of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. During my presidency, we will fight to protect and expand every American’s right to take part in our democracy."
It’s estimated roughly 6.1 million people in the US have been "forbidden to vote because of felony disenfranchisement, or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes," according to a 2016 report from The Sentencing Project, a non-profit focusing on criminal justice reform,
It’s up to states whether or not current or former inmates are allowed to vote, and laws vary from state to state.
Republicans quickly denounced on the Vermont senator’s comments on voting rights for felons.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel slammed Sanders on social media after the town hall.
"If you had any doubt about how radical the Democrat Party has become, their 2020 frontrunner wants to let terrorists convicted of murdering American citizens vote from prison. It’s beyond extreme," McDaniel tweeted.
"Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse," GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a tweet, echoing McDaniel.
"@BernieSanders supports allowing rapists, murderers, and terrorists – like the Boston bomber and Dylan Roof, the individual who massacred 9 church-goers in Charleston, to vote from prison," Graham added.
- Bernie Sanders says even ‘terrible people’ in prison for crimes like the Boston Marathon bombing should be allowed to vote
- Billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer says 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is the ‘real deal’
- Beto O’Rourke rejects Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up Amazon