Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) doubled down on his controversial proposal that would allow convicted criminals the right to vote while in prison, during a “She the People” event in Houston on April 24.
Sanders, who is vying for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination, argued that allowing criminals to vote is comparable to the civil rights movement that enabled voting rights for women and blacks.
“That is a right we must protect because we know the history of this country,” Sanders said, referring to felon voting rights, Breitbart reported. “We know that women didn’t have the right to vote. We know that African Americans didn’t have the right to vote.”
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are more than 1.6 million convicted criminals in local, state, and federal prisons across the United States. That includes about 183,000 convicted murderers and 164,000 convicted rapists.
In his speech, Sanders admitted that his proposal had faced condemnation. But he continued to defend his stance.
“I was criticized rather strongly because I said that when we talk about the right to vote that right should exist for people who are currently in jail,” Sanders said.
“And I was told this was a terrible idea, despite the fact that in Canada and in countries all over the world—why did I say that?” Sanders said. “I said that because the right to vote is essential. If you are a citizen, you have the right to vote.”
Sanders claimed that the right to vote is based on a person’s citizenship, not their morals or actions in life. He also defended his stance on Twitter, claiming that his plan isn’t “a radical idea” and that more than 30 countries around the world allow prisoners to vote.
“So my view is it’s not a matter if you are a good person or a bad person. You commit a crime, pay the price, go to jail,” he said. “But being an American citizen and having the right to vote is something we should never, ever give up on.”
More than 30 countries around the world today such as Canada, South Africa and Finland allow prisoners to vote. This is not a radical idea.
Every American citizen must be able to vote. Period.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 24, 2019
Since Sanders first brought up his felon voting proposal at an April 7 town hall event in Iowa, other 2020 contenders have been asked for their views on it.
When Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was pressed for comment on the issue, her response contrasted with Sanders.
“Do I think people who commit murder, or people who are terrorists, should be deprived of their rights? Yeah, I do,” she said at a campaign event in New Hampshire on April 23. “I’m a prosecutor … there has to be serious consequences for the most extreme types of crimes.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another presidential candidate, said there needed to be more debate on the issue, without offering any opinion of her own.
“While they’re incarcerated, I think that’s something we can have more conversation about,” Warren said, according to the Des Moines Register.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been a vocal critic of the plan. On Twitter, he brought up the type of people that would be able to vote under Sanders’s plan.
“Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse….@BernieSanders supports allowing rapists, murderers, and terrorists–like the Boston bomber and Dylan [sic] Roof, the individual who massacred 9 church-goers in Charleston, to vote from prison,” Graham said on April 23.