Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) strongly suggested in a CNN town hall last week that he is open to restoring voting rights to convicted felons.

“I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy,” Sanders said at the event. “Yes, even for terrible people.”

The 77-year-old 2020 Democratic presidential candidate’s comment appeared intended to appeal to criminal justice activists and people of color, who are often disproportionately incarcerated. In a tweet, Sanders also cited several countries who allow prisoners to participate in elections.

Sanders’ response to a question about the issue also stood out because several other 2020 Democratic presidential contenders — like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Kamala Harris (D-California), as well as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — stated that they were opposed to restoring voting rights to all convicted felons across the board.

The issue surrounding voting rights for incarcerated Americans has not yet become one of the top issues for the 2020 election, although it could be. Florida is one state that has pushed to restore this right for felons via a ballot initiative, although several top Republican officials in the state have reportedly tried to thwart this effort.


Given the 20 Democrats running for president, the issue could become one that distinguishes the many contenders from each other.

Other 2020 Democratic candidates, like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and former Housing Secretary Julian Castrohinted recently that they would consider letting nonviolent offenders — like drug users incarcerated for lengthy sentences — vote while in prison.

Sanders said he is aware his stance regarding felons and voting rights could make him a target of attacks from conservatives. Fox News and far-right-wing news website Breitbart rapidly commented on the senator’s position on the subject, with the latter outlet calling it “insane.”

Trump mocked Sanders’ remarks in a speech before members of the National Rifle Association.

“Let the Boston bomber vote — he should be voting, right?” Trump stated in the speech, referencing one of the two men who was responsible for the terror attacks in the Boston Marathon in 2013. “I don’t think so. Let terrorists that are in prison vote, I don’t think so. Can you believe it? But this is where some of these people are coming from.”

Two states, Maine and Vermont, currently do not revoke felons’ voting rights and let them cast ballots from behind bars.


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