- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Sen. Bernard Sanders has doubled down on his call for prison inmates to cast ballots in elections, an idea that got a cool reception from Democratic Party leaders, voters and his rivals in the presidential race.

But the idea has caught fire with dozens of liberal groups that signed on to a letter pressuring 2020 presidential candidates to endorse in-prison voting. So far there have been no takers among the more than 20 other Democrats in the race.

In response to criticism about letting terrorists and killers vote, Mr. Sanders issued a series of tweets this week and wrote an op-ed in USA Today saying he would even want felons such as President Trump’s former colleagues Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen to vote while behind bars.

“Even if Trump’s former campaign manager and personal lawyer end up in jail, they should still be able to vote — regardless of who they cast their vote for,” he wrote in the op-ed. “This should not devolve into a debate about whether certain people are ‘good enough’ to have the right to vote. Voting is not a privilege. It is a right.”

He insisted that it is “not a radical idea.” From his perspective, it is simply the right thing to do.

Allowing voting by prison inmates and felons once released from prison, Mr. Sanders argued, would reverse a century of efforts to rob the vote from people of color, who disproportionately make up the prison population.

Would rank-and-file Democratic voters want convicts casting ballots?

“No! No! They committed a crime. Let them suffer. Take all their rights away,” said Hank Jagielski, 79, a lifelong Democrat and retired steelworker in Pittsburgh.

President Trump predicted that the in-prison voting plan would spell doom for the Sanders campaign.

“Let the Boston bomber vote? I don’t think so,” Mr. Trump said to howls from the National Rifle Association convention last week in Indianapolis.

Still, Mr. Sanders has a history of staking out radical positions that eventually are embraced by many Democrats, such as tuition-free college and a “Medicare for All” program for government-run health care.

When Mr. Sanders floated the idea of prison cell voting last month at a campaign stop in Greenville, South Carolina, he garnered applause from the crowd.

Under closer scrutiny, however, doubts emerged about granting voting rights to criminals such as Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof.

“There is more conversation to be had before we know if it is resonating,” Kate Franch, chair of the Democratic Party in Greenville, told The Washington Times.

Nearly 70 civil rights and liberal advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center, signed an open letter Tuesday urging the 2020 presidential candidates to back voting in prison and for felons when released.

“Why not let them continue to vote while they are incarcerated. Throughout Europe, people in prison retain their right to vote while incarcerated,” said the letter, which was first reported by The Huffington Post.

Presidential contender Sen. Cory A. Booker didn’t reject in-prison voting but said it wasn’t an issue on which he wanted to run.

“As a guy who lives in an inner-city black community, and knows that there are millions of Americans that are being arrested and convicted and should never be there in the first — they not only lose their right to vote, but they lose their liberty,” the New Jersey Democrat said on “PBS News Hour.”

“We have a nation that takes away people’s liberty and their right to vote for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing. So if Bernie Sanders wants to get involved in a conversation about whether Dylann Roof and the Marathon bomber should have the right to vote [he can],” said Mr. Booker. “My focus is liberating black and brown people and low-income people from prison because we have a system in America that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.”

Some of the Democratic hopefuls left the door open to the proposal.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California said it is was a discussion worth having.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she “is not there yet.”

Others ruled it out.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg gave a firm “no.”

University of North Carolina political science professor Marc J. Hetherington said he would be stunned if Mr. Sanders’ idea went mainstream.

“It appears to me like single-payer health insurance. Far-left liberals seem to believe that because the ‘right thing to do’ is so clear to them, simply raising it will cause others on the left to follow. I doubt it,” he said.

Bailey Vogt contributed to this report.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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