We Need a Healthy Conversation About Allowing Prisoners to Vote.
What voting rights could mean for the imprisoned population.
The discussion surrounding prisons and how to tackle criminal justice reform overall has been an important and necessary part of political debate, and has come to the heart of the conversation in recent days. During a recent CNN town hall, Bernie Sanders raised eyebrows with his bold and controversial position that yes, he would allow the Boston bomber to vote. Predictably, this statement ignited fierce pushback to the idea. In the sensationalized response to Bernie’s answer, the larger point and what he was trying to address might unfortunately be getting lost in the discourse.
By stating that he would allow the Boston bomber to vote, Bernie was telling the audience that yes, he stood by his principled view that he would allow ALL prisoners and ex prisoners to vote, regardless of their crimes.
By conflating all of the country’s incarcerated population with the likes of the Boston bomber, we are doing an enormous disservice to the discussion by allowing people to forget the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of people behind bars for crimes like drug offenses. There are people doing life without the possibility of parole for nonviolent drug offenses. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of prisoners are not terrorists, and a majority of them aren’t even murderers. We are allowing people to forget the fact that even AFTER criminals have paid their debt to society, felons face incredible systemic obstacles that stand in the way of them improving their lives.
Why shouldn’t they be allowed to vote?
They are paying their debt to society, and have already forfeited the right to live among the population. What good does it do to take away their right to participate in our democracy? Would anyone who is intent on committing a crime of any kind really be deterred by the fact that they won’t be able to vote if they go through with it? As for the vast majority of prisoners who have the possibility of being released one day, how is barring them from voting going to help them improve their circumstances and lessen their chances of recidivism?