WASHINGTON—The Democratic presidential field has differing opinions on whether incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote, a divide that surfaced during a handful of candidate town halls on CNN Monday night.
When asked about his view on the issue, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders backed the idea of protecting the voting rights of people in jail, even violent felons, pointing to the fact that it's already law in his home state.
"The right to vote is inherent to our democracy, yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away and you say, Well, that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote. Oh, that person did that, not going to let that person vote.' You're running down a slippery slope," he said.
"So I believe that people commit crimes, they paid the price. When they get out of jail, I believe they certainly should have the right to vote. But I do believe that even if they are in jail they're paying their price to society, but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy."
Other candidates disagreed, or offered a more qualified answer.
- California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris: "I agree that the right to vote is one of the very important components of citizenship and it is something that people should not be stripped of needlessly...I think we should have that conversation. "
- South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, when asked if those incarcerated should be able to vote: "No, I don't think so. I do believe that when you are out, when you have served your sentence, then part of being restored to society is that you're part of the political life of this nation again. And one of the things that needs to be restored is your right to vote."
- California Rep. Eric Swalwell: "Some people, like the Boston marathon bombers, those individuals should never vote in America again.”
- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed the issue Tuesday in a conversation with reporters, saying "I'm not there yet."
While other issues, like health care and climate change, have dominated much of the presidential debate, many Democrats have previously voiced their support for a related measure—felon re-enfranchisement laws that would grant the right to vote back to former felons who complete their sentencing requirements.
Harris, Buttigieg, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Warren and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke are among those who back that policy.
The push comes months after a high-profile vote in Florida last November that gave formerly incarcerated felons the right to register to vote after completing any post-sentencing requirements (such as parole and probation.)