Bernie Sanders is taking the Democratic Party’s support of expanding voting rights to a new level, saying this week that he would support giving all felons the right to vote — and even allowing them to cast ballots from behind bars.
During a campaign stop in Iowa, Sanders was asked for his stance on whether imprisoned people should be able to participate in elections, and the Vermont Senator did not hesitate to register his support for the idea.
“I think that is absolutely the direction we should go,” Sanders said, via the Des Moines Register.
Sanders noted that Vermont views imprisonment as different than disenfranchisement, which is the way he wants to see it played out across the United States.
“In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” Sanders said.
“But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”
Democrats have made efforts to push voting rights, removing any roadblocks for Americans to vote and expanding practices of early voting and same-day registration. This comes amid allegations of slanted tactics from Republicans, who have been accused of suppressing voting through measures like restrictive voter identification policies and cutting back on early voting.
Several states have taken measures to expand voting rights for felons, including Florida where voters last year approved a measure to restore voting rights to all who have been convicted of felonies. Republicans in that state are accused of trying to thwart the measure, introducing a bill that would place new limits on which former felons could vote and requiring them to pay back all court fees and fines before they would be allowed to register to vote.
As NBC News noted, the idea came under fire from critics who said it would amount to a poll tax, and legal experts said that even if passed, the measure appears likely to be struck down by courts.
“What the barriers proposed in this bill do is nearly guarantee that people will miss election after election …because they cannot afford to pay financial obligations,” Julie Ebenstein, a voting rights attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, told NBC News.
“It’s an affront to the Florida voters.”
Bernie Sanders comes out in favor of abolishing felon disfranchisement, says people in prison should never lose the right to vote in the first place. https://t.co/WbyAGwjZ0H
— David Menschel (@davidminpdx) April 7, 2019
The issue of voting rights already appeared likely to play a major role in the 2020 presidential election, and Bernie Sanders’ support of expanding rights to felons could push other candidates to make it a larger part of their platforms.