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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg clashed over voting rights for incarcerated Americans on Monday. Twitter has been quick to take sides following the tense exchanges at the CNN town hall debate.
A Harvard student posed the question to Sanders, asking whether those incarcerated—including the likes of the Boston Marathon bomber and those convicted of sexual assault—should be able to vote.
“Yes, even for terrible people because once you start chipping away,” he said, “you’re running down a slippery slope. So I believe that [when] people commit crimes they pay the price, when they got out of jail 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.”
BREAKING: Bernie Sanders says incarcerated people should be able to vote, even "terrible people"— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) April 23, 2019
Buttigieg had a different response.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said firmly after being asked his insight on Sanders’ response. His response was met with a round of applause by the guests. “I do believe when you are out, when you have served your sentence, then part of being restored to society is 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.”
He went on to explain that voting is one of the rights you lose as “part of the punishment” for your crime.
Twitter has a lot of feelings about this:
If incarcerated individuals shouldn’t vote, then their labor shouldn’t be exploited by major corporations/entities for what amounts to pennies either.— h. (@HCobbland84) April 23, 2019
So you think rapist should have a say on women’s rights? Terrorists should have a say on foreign affairs? This premise is so ridiculous. You ability to vote is the pinnacle of your freedom. You lost that when you got incarcerated. In jail is ridiculous.— Joseph Olmeda (@JosephOlmeda5) April 23, 2019
Unless a felony conviction equates to a loss of citizenship, the right to vote belongs to every breathing citizen, incarcerated or not!— John Benochi (@benochij) April 23, 2019
If you care whatsoever about democracy, you should believe in UNIVERSAL suffrage. Democracy doesn’t mean that some bullshit moral test is a prerequisite to being allowed a vote. Don’t trust a single “progressive” who wants to continue to deny incarcerated people that right.— Hannah Riley (@hannahcrileyy) April 23, 2019
In fact, it was a dealbreaker for some users.
I’m not sure who I’ll be supporting in the primary yet, but @PeteButtigieg lost my vote with this. There’s no good reason not to let incarcerated folks vote. It’s a policy rooted in racism & white supremacy. https://t.co/LF6GyqtSoK— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) April 23, 2019
Some pointed out the important nuances of the question—while the Boston Marathon bomber is convicted of a heinous crime, he is hardly reflective of the greater prison population of America, where mainly people of color and people from low socio-economic backgrounds are likely to be imprisoned.
This moment shows the importance of framing. "Should the Boston Bomber be allowed to vote from prison?" is a much different question than "Should incarcerated Americans have their voting rights restored?" https://t.co/BaIRcGpyVI— Steadman™ (@AsteadWesley) April 23, 2019
So incarcerated people having the right to vote isn't about "terrible people" voting.— Wagatwe Wanjuki 🇰🇪 🇧🇸 (@wagatwe) April 23, 2019
It's about whether you believe people who are disproportionately oppressed by an unjust system still deserve to elect their representative. I think yes.
I don't think anyone would suggest that the Boston Bomber should vote while incarcerated. The problem is that the prison system has a foundation built off of deeply rooted racial bias where there are statistically disproportionate arrests & sentences for people of color.— TARZ (@TheyCallMeTarz) April 23, 2019
Race, social class, and gender are important while discussing the prison population because they influence key factors like one’s access to legal services.
Real talk. Fuck Pete Buttgieg and anyone else who says incarcerated shouldn’t be able to vote. This only further disenfranchises black and brown ppl targeted by the industrial prison system. https://t.co/aVoNn9sjz1— X (@XLNB) April 23, 2019
When Buttigieg responded that prisoners should be denied the right to vote, I couldn't help but think of the queer and trans people, many of color, who were incarcerated so that he could have the career and the freedom that he has now. #CNNTownHall— Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) April 23, 2019
I don’t expect to vote for a candidate with whom I 100% agree on everything. But this is a signal that Buttigieg doesn’t really understand the dynamics of race, incarceration, white supremacy, & participation in our democracy. That’s disqualifying.— Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) April 23, 2019
Incarcerated felons losing their voting rights isn't a punishment meant to be a deterrent as Mayor Pete suggested tonight in his town hall. People don't stay out of jail so they can vote. Their votes stripped from them as a vestige of slavery and Jim Crow to keep white power.— Joe Segal-Create Positive Progress (@joesegal) April 23, 2019
The prison population escalated to over two million in 2015, from 500,000 people in 1980. African-Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated in America than whites, and there continue to be large discrepancies between jobs accessible to the formerly incarcerated white population versus the formerly incarcerated Black and Hispanic populations. These are factors that Buttigieg has yet to comment on.
Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque