AOC joins Bernie in backing voting rights for prisoners

Stepping into the debate over whether imprisoned felons should be allowed to vote, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed the idea and advised opponents they risked “looking completely + utterly out of touch w/ the reality [of] our prison system.”

“Instead of asking, ‘Should the Boston Bomber have the right to vote?’” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday, “Try, ‘Should a nonviolent person stopped w/ a dime bag LOSE the right to vote?’

“[Because] that question reflects WAY more people,” she added.

Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Democrat from New York who has emerged as a de facto spokesperson for the party’s progressive wing, weighed in after Sen. Bernie Sanders came under criticism for proposing that people in prison for any reason should be allowed to cast a ballot.

When asked during a CNN town hall Monday night if incarcerated felons like the Boston Marathon bomber or those convicted of sexual assault should be eligible to vote while serving their sentences, Sanders firmly replied, “the right to vote is inherent to our democracy, yes, even for terrible people.”

“As it happens, in my own state of Vermont, from the very first days of our state's history, what our Constitution says is that everybody can vote,” he said. “So people in jail can vote.”

Sanders continued: “If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they're going to 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.”

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PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 15: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to a crowd gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center during a campaign rally on March 15, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary elections in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, while Missouri and Illinois remain tight races. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 26: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to the media after holding a campaign event with United Steelworkers Local 310L, on January 26, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Sanders continues his quest to become the Democratic presidential nominee.. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, participates in the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. Hours before Sunday's Democratic debate, the two top Democratic contenders held a warm-up bout of sorts in multiple separate appearances on political talk shows, at a time when the polling gap between the pair has narrowed in early-voting states. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) shakes hands with supporters after outlining his plan to reform the U.S. financial sector on January 5, 2016 in New York City. Sanders is demanding greater financial oversight and greater government action for banks and individuals that break financial laws. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
LEBANON, NH - NOVEMBER 11: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) marches in the Veterans Day Parade November 11, 2015 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Sanders goes into the Democrats second debate this weekend still running strong in the polls.(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
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“But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy, yes, even for terrible people,” he added, “because once you start chipping away and you say, ‘well, that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote.’...You're running down a slippery slope.”

The Republican National Committee issued a statement denouncing Sanders, who during the townhall accused of Republican governors of a “cowardly” effort to suppress votes.

“Bernie Sanders, the current front-runner for the Democratic nomination, just made it clear he wants convicted terrorists, sex offenders, and murderers to vote from prison,” the statement read. “The Boston Marathon Bomber killed three people and injured 280 more. Bernie’s concern? That he gets his absentee ballot.”

Only two states allow incarcerated citizens to vote, Sanders's Vermont and Maine

During the 2018 midterm elections, Florida to approve Amendment 4, automatically restoring voting rights in the state for convicted felons — not including those convicted of sexual offenses or murder — after their sentences are completed.

The vote was a major win for criminal justice reform and the re-enfranchisement movement, which advocates for voting rights for people in prison and the 6 million Americans who, according to the Sentencing Project, are kept from voting because of felony disenfranchisement, especially African-Americans, who are incarcerated at higher rates than white Americans

“Black Americans & PoC are far more likely to be convicted + sentenced longer than White Americans for similar crimes,” Ocasio-Cortez continued in her twitter debate. “Our system routinely criminalizes poverty + exonerates wealth.”

She added: “Many rebut the voting question by saying, ‘Well, *those* people shouldn’t be jailed.’ Glad you feel that way! But the truth is, the US incarcerates more people per capita than anywhere in the world - even more than China. Our system is built to disenfranchise people of color.”

“We ‘shouldn’t’ incarcerate for nonviolent offenses, we ‘shouldn’t’ have school-to-prison pipelines, we ‘shouldn’t’ sentence [people of color] more than white people for similar crimes...but we do. We’re so eager to talk about punishment, but correcting our injustices is ‘controversial.’”

Sanders is the first candidate to outright support felony voting rights. Some other 2020 candidates have cautiously said it should be considered, while others have denounced the idea completely.

“These are policies that go back to Jim Crow,” said 2020 contender Sen. Kamala Harris, also speaking at a CNN Town Hall, about laws that leave felons “permanently deprived of the right to vote.”

She added: “These are policies that go back to the heart of policies that have been about disenfranchisement, policies that continue until today, and we need to take it seriously.”

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US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), dressed in white in tribute to the women's suffrage movement, arrives for the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 5, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, speaks with colleagues during a State of the Union address by U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. President Donald Trump cast his fight against illegal migration to the U.S. as a moral struggle, and charged in his second State of the Union address that partisan investigations threaten economic progress under his administration. Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat of New York, from left, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat of New York, and Representative Judy Chu, a Democrat of California, speak prior to a State of the Union address by U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. President Donald Trump cast his fight against illegal migration to the U.S. as a moral struggle, and charged in his second State of the Union address that partisan investigations threaten economic progress under his administration. Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) smiles, dressed in white in tribute to the women's suffrage movement, as she arrives for the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 5, 2019. - Omar wears a pin of Jakelin Caal, the Guatemalan migrant girl who died in US custody after illegally crossing the border with her father. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, smiles as U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, delivers a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. President Donald Trump cast his fight against illegal migration to the U.S. as a moral struggle, and charged in his second State of the Union address that partisan investigations threaten economic progress under his administration. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks with other women wearing white ahead of the State of the Union address before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. The Democratic women wore white as a reference to the suffragette movement. This year marks the 100th anniversary of women having the right to vote. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) high-fives other congresswomen after President Donald J. Trump acknowledged newly elected female members of congress during the State of the Union address before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) ahead of the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump's second State of the Union address was postponed one week due to the partial government shutdown. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: First row from left, Reps. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., are seen in the House Chamber as President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., right, high fives Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., as Democratic members celebrate in the House Chamber as President Donald Trump recognized their achievement of electing a record number of women to Congress, during the State of the Union address on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 5: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., right, walks with her State of the Union guest Ana Maria Archila to the House chamber for President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) watches President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. A group of female Democratic lawmakers chose to wear white to the speech in solidarity with women and a nod to the suffragette movement. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) watches President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. A group of female Democratic lawmakers chose to wear white to the speech in solidarity with women and a nod to the suffragette movement. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and other female lawmakers cheer during President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. A group of female Democratic lawmakers chose to wear white to the speech in solidarity with women and a nod to the suffragette movement. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., attends a group photo of House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center, who plan to wear 'suffragette white' to the State of the Union address to show solidarity for women's agendas on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: First row from left, Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Alma Adams, D-N.C., pose for a group photo of House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center, who plan to wear 'suffragette white' to the State of the Union address to show solidarity for women's agendas on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 05: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., right, greets Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., after a group photo of House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center who will wear 'suffragette white' to the State of the Union address to show solidarity for women's agendas on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
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Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., when asked the same question at his own Town Hall Monday, responded, “No, I don’t think so.”

“Enfranchisement upon release is important, but part of the punishment … is you lose certain rights,” said Buttigieg. “You lose your freedom. And I don’t think during that time it makes sense to have that exception.”

“People commit crimes, they paid the price,” said Sanders. “When they get out of jail, I believe 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."

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