Image: ACLU. Note: Florida last year changed their laws to allow Felons to apply to get their voting rights back.

Bernie Sanders thinks murderers, even mass murderers, should be able to vote while in prison.

During a CNN town hall, Bernie was asked whether he believed sex offenders or people like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, should still be able to vote.

“Yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away and you say, ‘Well, that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote. Well, that person did that. Not going to let that person vote,’ you’re running down a slippery slope,” Sanders said in response to a question about restoring felons’ voting rights.

Alabama Mass Murderers

For Alabama, that would mean people like Amy Bishop and Derrick Dearman, who combined have taken 9 lives, would remain free to shape Alabama’s and America’s political future for the rest of their life. Replacing their victim’s votes with their own.

Derrick Dearman pleaded guilty to six counts of capital murder after a shooting spree in Citronelle, AL in 2016. Five of the victims were of voting age. Five votes were taken away permanently that day. Derrick Dearman was sentenced to death last year and will likely sit on death row for decades.

What about Amy Bishop who lived in Huntsville, AL? In March 2009, Bishop had been denied tenure at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, making spring 2010 her last semester there, per university policy.

Instead of applying for new jobs, she opened fire on her co-workers, killing three people and injuring three more. Three votes were taken away permanently.

Why do these murderers deserve the right to vote when they denied that right to others?

What kind of message does it send to white supremacists like Dylann Roof, who killed 9 black people in a church, that you can take the voting rights of 9 black people away while keeping yours?

Why Are Voting Rights More Important Than Other Rights?

Our culture tends to take the approach that those who commit crimes have broken their “social contract” with society.  As such, and after due process, the rights and privileges of those of us who cannot abide by the laws that govern and protect civilized society are curtailed or removed for a period of time.  People convicted of DUI lose the ability to easily retain their driver’s license (driving schools and high monetary penalties are some of the costs for even first-time offenders). In some instances, people lose their privilege to drive altogether.  For those convicted of the most heinous crimes (especially violent crimes), society forces them to surrender their most basic and fundamental right….the right to be free and commute/associate without hindrance or interference.

Those who agree with the position of Bernie Sanders, that chipping away voting rights of terrible people is a slippery slope, miss the point that those who would violate the rights of others and deny them “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as a fundamental rule of law lose their right to “contribute” to the society they damaged until they repay their debt.  While in prison, they can no longer work, pay taxes, attend city council meetings, or do any other of the fundamental things that would improve or impact society. The “state” now bears the burden of providing food, shelter, and other sustenance, all at taxpayer expense.

Some will argue that denying people the right to vote in prison, also known as felony disenfranchisement, could be used to alter the criminal justice system to target political opponents.  The strongest proponents for this argument, however, normally cite examples where certain states continue to deny felons the right to vote even after they have been released from prison and paid their debt to society.  Such arguments are not generally made in favor of those convicted felons that remain incarcerated.

Today, only two states (Iowa and Kentucky) have permanent disenfranchisement for all people with felony convictions (unless the Governor approves individual rights restoration.)  All other states, depending on circumstances, offer at least partial restoration (or a path to restoration). Two states (Maine and Vermont) allow convicted felons to vote, even in prison.  

From this author’s perspective, when Amy Bishop and Derrick Dearman took lives, they broke their societal contract and lost their right to participate in society as a result. They denied the rights of other human beings to their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness…..permanently.  While both are still protected by the Constitution’s 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, neither of them get to have a firearm in prison, neither of them gets to freely move or commute because they are a threat to society, etc.  Should these two, and those like them, who have been deemed so dangerous be given the same rights, while incarcerated, that you and I, as law-abiding citizens, have? That is the “slippery slope” question to answer.

My answer is a resounding no.

Brent Wilson
Brent was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama and is the founder of BamaPolitics.com.