Voting rights: Should murderers get a ballot?

You’ve got to hand it to Bernie Sanders, said Joan Vennochi in The Boston Globe. The high-minded Democratic presidential candidate never puts any “constraints on his principles,” even when they’re bound to alienate most American voters. Other Democrats have called for states to give back to felons the right to vote after they pay their debt to society and leave prison, but Sanders wants to go a big step further—giving all prison inmates the right to vote. Asked at a CNN town hall “if he’d support enfranchising people like the Boston Marathon bomber,” Sanders immediately said yes. “I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy,” Sanders said. “Yes, even for terrible people.” Even Hollywood super-liberal Cher was horrified, tweeting, “Murderers? Rapists? Child Molesters? Boston Bombers? Still deserve the right to vote?” With positions like that, Sanders may outdo fellow far-lefty George McGovern, who only won one state in 1972.

Sanders undoubtedly “spritzed an ocean of contrarian stink into the air,” said Jack Shafer in Politico.com. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t right. The disenfranchisement of prisoners is a hoary vestige of English Common Law, which imposed “civil death” on anyone convicted of a crime, including the loss of his property and possible dissolution of his marriage. In the U.S., we’ve steadily moved away from these draconian penalties; prisoners retain rights, including access to the courts. Two states, Maine and Sanders’ Vermont, already allow inmates to vote, with no evident “deleterious political or social effects.” By repealing the civil death sentence and returning the vote to prisoners, Americans might actually “socialize the antisocial” and help “reintegrate them into society.

That’s ridiculous, said the New York Daily
News in an editorial. “Losing rights available to the law-abiding is part of felon punishment”— especially for murderers. Restoring voting rights to ex-cons, as Florida voters decided to do last year, makes sense; bringing a ballot into Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s prison cell does not. Democrats better be careful, said David Litt in TheAtlantic.com. They have a good chance to beat President Trump if they focus voters’ attention on issues such as climate change, taxes, and health care. But if Democrats give knee-jerk liberal answers to hypothetical questions, such as “the democratic liberties afforded to a single particularly heinous citizen, the president has a fighting chance.”