Bernie Sanders Supports Voting Rights for Incarcerated People

During a town hall meeting at the Muscatine West Middle School gymnasium in Iowa on Saturday, Senator Bernie Sanders said more states should consider extending voting rights to incarcerated people. “I think that is absolutely the direction we should go,” Sanders said, according to the Des Moines Register. Currently, Iowa prohibits anyone with a felony conviction from voting, and incarcerated people can only vote if they have permission from the governor.

The Democratic presidential candidate told Iowans that incarcerated people should still have the right to vote in elections. Sanders’ home state of Vermont and Maine are the only two states in the US that allow people to vote while incarcerated, according to the outlet.

“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 said. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential hopeful, also discussed voting during a recent meeting about rural issues in Storm Lake, Iowa. During the forum, Warren said she believed previously incarcerated people should be allowed to vote, but did not say where people who are currently in prison should take part in an election, The Huffington Post previously reported.

"While they’re incarcerated, I think that’s something we can have more conversation about," Warren said. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), incarcerated people in 14 states and the District of Columbia lose their voting rights while serving time but will have their rights restored once they have finished their sentences. There are 22 states in which people lose their voting rights while serving time, on probation, or parole, according to the NCSL. Republican Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds endorsed an amendment this year that would allow incarcerated people to vote once they completed their sentence, according to the Des Moines Register. On Friday, Republican Iowa state senators effectively killed the legislation.

In a statement to the publication, Reynolds said she would continue to fight for the legislation. “I am disappointed in today's setback, but I will not give up the fight for Iowans who deserve a second chance,” Reynolds said. “It’s encouraging to have a strong coalition of supporters backing our proposed constitutional amendment. There’s more work to do, but I am committed to getting this done.”

Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project in Washington, DC, told The North Star that he found it “encouraging” that Sanders would support a proposal like Reynolds’. Mauer added that incarcerated people may feel isolated from the community because of a lack of voting rights.

“Not only are people isolated from the community but they are separated from the electoral process,” said Mauer. “It’s counterproductive.”

Eric E. Sterling, executive director of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, told The North Star that prohibiting incarcerated people from voting can create “alienation” and “separateness” from the rest of the community. “By denying people the critical civic right to vote, it is a powerful stigma, and it is deeply psychologically undermining.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.