At a CNN presidential town hall on Monday, April 22, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders argued that American citizens behind bars should be able to cast a ballot.
“I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy, yes, even for terrible people,” Sen. Sanders stated. CNN host Chris Cuomo immediately asked the Vermont senator if this includes terrorists such as the Boston Marathon bomber, to which Sanders doubled down on the policy position.
Many in the mainstream media pounced on this statement by the presidential candidate, claiming it to be radical and far-left. But the reality, something the U.S. legacy media is not always in accordance with, is far different. Many countries, especially those within the European Union, allow prisoners to cast a ballot. All convicts, no matter their conviction, can vote in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Spain. Germany only bars prisoners “convicted of an act of terrorism or political violence,” such as offences that target the state and its democratic order, from voting. Just five members of the 26 member European Union enforce a blanket ban on all prisoners from casting a ballot. If allowing prisoners to vote is a radical and far-left position, it’s quite strange that the majority of first-world nations put this idea into practice.
In the U.S., individual states decide whether prisoners and ex-convicts within their borders can or cannot vote. Vermont and Maine are the only states where “felons can vote even when they are behind bars.” The other 48 states bar felons from voting while in prison, but the majority grant felons the right to vote upon release. Convicted murderers and rapists in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee will never vote again upon release, while Florida requires ex-convicts to wait five years to vote after their release.
To make matters worse, prisoners are used as tools to give rural areas more political power. This is achieved by the census counting prisoners as residents of the areas where they are incarcerated rather than their actual homes, a policy that will continue during the 2020 census. So while these prisoners are not allowed to vote, they allow rural states to have a higher population count, resulting in an increase in these state’s representation within the U.S. Congress.
When comparing these American policies to other first-world, developed nations, they are archaic, draconian and, yes, radical. Ironically, Russia, a nation that many in the media claim represents the opposite of American values, also bans all prisoners from voting.
Whether the majority of Americans support allowing prisoners to cast a ballot or not, the idea is not radical. Many commentators within the mainstream media have smeared Sen. Sanders as a far-left because he doubles down when asked whether the Boston Marathon bomber should vote. However, this is the wrong question to ask. The U.S. mass-incarcerates many thousands of U.S. citizens for non-violent drug offences. Should someone sentenced to life in prison as an 18-year old for selling crack-cocaine not be allowed to vote? This is the question that those in the media should be asking.