Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says that people convicted of crimes should be able to vote while behind bars.
“I think that is absolutely the direction we should go,” Sanders told an American Civil Liberties Union volunteer who asked him about it during a town hall in Muscatine, Iowa, on Saturday.
“In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” he added. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”
Most states disenfranchise felons. Only Sanders’ home state of Vermont and the state of Maine allow people to vote while incarcerated.
The ACLU is pushing 2020 presidential candidates to commit to cutting the federal prison population in half and to allow incarcerated people to vote, part of a $30 million push to shape elections and advance civil libertarian ideas over the next two years. The group has deployed thousands of its members in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to pressure candidates on a host of civil liberties issues.
“If we can get a big number of candidates to commit in a clear and unequivocal way to certain civil rights and civil liberties positions, that would be a win,” Ronald Newman, the group’s interim national political director, told HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard last month.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, stopped short of endorsing the idea during a recent candidate forum on rural issues hosted by HuffPost and the Open Markets Institute.
“While they’re incarcerated, I think that’s something we can have more conversation about,” Warren said.
Voting rights advocates were dealt a setback in Iowa last week after Republican lawmakers in the state Legislature blocked a constitutional amendment proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) from moving forward this year that would automatically restore voting rights to former felons. Currently, Iowa is one of two states that only allow felons to vote if a governor grants them permission.