MUSCATINE, Iowa – While Iowa struggles on whether to restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences, Sen. Bernie Sanders said people convicted of felonies should never lose access to the ballot box in the first place.
At a town hall meeting in Muscatine’s West Middle School gymnasium Saturday, the Vermont senator was asked whether the imprisoned should have the right to vote. Only his home state and Maine allow felons to vote from behind bars.
"I think that is absolutely the direction we should go," he said.
While most states disenfranchise felons, Sanders said the convicted still have a right to participate in elections.
"In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That's bad," he said. "But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren was asked about the issue during a recent forum on rural issues in Storm Lake. She said felons who have served their time deserve the franchise. But Warren stopped short of saying those in prison should be able to vote.
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"While they’re incarcerated, I think that’s something we can have more conversation about," she said.
Sanders skipped that presidential forum, which was attended by Warren, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former U.S. housing secretary Julián Castro, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.
This year, Iowa's Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has advocated for a constitutional amendment to allow people convicted of felonies to automatically have their voting rights restored once they have served their sentence. Right now, Iowa is one of two states that only allow felons to vote if a governor gives them permission.
But hopes for Iowa to start the yearslong process to approve that constitutional amendment were dashed this week when the Republican-controlled Senate thwarted the plan, likely killing it for the year. The Republican-controlled House had overwhelmingly approved the plan earlier.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: In Iowa, Bernie Sanders says states should allow felons to vote from behind bars