Bernie Sanders recently indicated that he would extend voting rights to the Boston bomber who injured and killed many innocent people in 2013. According to Fox News, Sanders stated, “If somebody commits a serious crime- sexual assault, murder, they’re gonna be punished. They may be in jail for 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, their whole lives. That’s what happens when you commit a serious crime.”
‘But, I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away and you say, ‘That guy committed a terrible crime, not gonna let him vote. Well, that person did that. Not gonna let that person vote,’ you’re running down a slippery slope. So, I believe that people who commit crimes, they pay the price. When they get out of jail, I believe they certainly should have the right the 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.
‘This is what I believe. Do you believe in democracy? Do you believe that every single American 18 years of age or older who is an American citizen has the right to vote?’ Sanders continued. ‘This is a democracy. We’ve got to expand that democracy and I believe that every single person does have the right to vote.’
Sanders’ suggestion is inconsistent with the principles of democracy and should be rejected.
The idea of enfranchisement has been a fairly hot topic in recent years. For example, during the 2016 midterm elections, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights for people convicted of felonies as long as they had completed their sentences (people convicted of murder or felony sex offenses are excluded). While some advocate for a much tougher standard before voting rights are restored, Amendment 4 pertained to certain types of felons and applied after they had served their sentence.
Sanders, on the other hand, doesn’t believe felons should have to wait. According to Sanders, to be a true democracy, every American citizen who is older than 18 should have the right to vote. It doesn’t matter if the person is a convicted murderer serving a life sentence or a convicted rapist who has five more years before he is eligible for release. To Sanders, both should have the right to vote. Period!
This argument assumes that people who have chosen to break the law retain the same rights as those who abide by the laws of our nation. This is not necessarily true. Our republic is built on a set of rules and laws; when someone chooses to break these rules or laws, he or she is, in essence, stating that he or she does not believe in our system of government.
An article by The Heritage Foundation set forth a concise, strong argument explaining why those who are serving a sentence should not have the right to vote. As the article says, “If you’re not willing to follow the law, then you should not have a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote—either directly (in the case of a referendum or ballot initiative) or indirectly (by choosing lawmakers and law enforcers).”
When a person seriously breaks the rules or violates the law, they lose certain rights until they have served their time or “righted” their wrong. Sanders’ approach seems to suggest that people can choose to violate our nation’s laws while helping shape them.
This have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too approach is unconscionable in a self-ruling society where our freedoms and privileges are directly tied to our willingness to abide by the rules and laws that govern the way we act. Fellow presidential contender Pete Buttigieg broke with Sanders on this topic, stating, “Enfranchisement upon release is important, but part of the punishment … is you lose certain rights. You lose your freedom. And I don’t think during that time it makes sense to have that exception.”
Sanders’ proposal should be rejected. It is one thing to allow felons who have completed their sentences to vote, as Amendment 4 did in Florida. It is an entirely different thing to allow those who are serving their sentences to directly or indirectly help shape the same laws that they chose to violate. Doing so would run afoul of what self-government and rule of law stand for.