Pete Buttigieg under fire for saying incarcerated Americans shouldn’t be allowed to vote

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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.”

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:

In fact, it was a dealbreaker for some users.

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.

Race, social class, and gender are important while discussing the prison population because they influence key factors like one’s access to legal services.

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.

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Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

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