Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) might be backing off her promise to let felons vote while still incarcerated, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) appears to have no intention of walking back statements made in a Monday night town hall event, where he pledged to restore voting rights to felons across the board, including those convicted of terrorism.
Sanders drew sharp criticism for an answer given Monday night in response to an audience question about whether he would, as president, work to restore voting rights to convicted felons, even those who remain behind bars. The audience member followed up by asking Sanders whether he believed voting rights should extend to those convicted of truly heinous crimes, like Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“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. Well, that person did that. Not going to let that person vote,’ you’re running down a slippery slope,” Sanders responded. “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.”
A handful of progressive-leaning 2020 Democratic presidential candidates quickly boarded that bandwagon, but by Tuesday afternoon, both Harris and surprise upstart candidate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, had disavowed Sanders’ idea, admitting that “voting rights for convicted terrorists” was not a hill they’d prefer to die on.
Sanders, however, The Washington Free Beacon reports, is intent on doubling down on his commitment to “voter rights,” and his campaign plans to “lean in” on the idea as they move into early primary states.
“Yes, I did get to speak to some voters, but I do want to say Bernie Sanders just wrapped up an event and he is not backing down from the issue at all,” NBC reporter Shaquille Brewster told MSNBC Tuesday during an interview. “I spoke to a senior campaign official who told me this is something the campaign plans to lean directly into. They see this as an opportunity to educate people on the Reconstruction era of restrictions on felons’ ability to vote.”
“This is something that this official told me that really is going to expand on with hard substantive policy as they go to South Carolina,” Brewster added.
All but truly dedicated progressives are backing away from what they see as a losing proposal at the ballot box, so why is Sanders doubling down? Allahpundit at Hot Air has a theory that seems to make sense: Sanders has routinely lagged behind with African-American voters, and he seems to believe that allowing felons to vote will resonate with the same minorities who completely avoided his campaign in 2012. South Carolina, in particular, is a tough state for Sanders — he lost it to Hillary Clinton by a 4 to 1 margin.
This time around, Sanders isn’t just dealing with the same gap in popularity among minority voters, he’s actively campaigning against minority candidates, putting him at a deeper disadvantage.
But Sanders is walking a fine line — a problem Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham pointed out on Twitter. Although restoring voting rights to incarcerated felons may be a somewhat popular idea among some voters, in South Carolina, it means restoring the right to vote to a particularly notorious racist murderer.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse….@BernieSanders supports allowing rapists, murderers, and terrorists – like the Boston bomber and Dylan Roof, the individual who massacred 9 church-goers in Charleston, to vote from prison. https://t.co/1wd8EBJHiS
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) April 23, 2019
The good news for Sanders, though, is that he’s got Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) backing on the idea — or, at least the backing of her Chief of Staff.
What's the reason NOT to let incarcerated people vote? Shouldn't the people most affected by unjust laws have some say in electing people to change them?
— Saikat Chakrabarti (@saikatc) April 24, 2019
The bad news is, that’s probably not a line most Americans are going to swallow.