Hillary Clinton Believes Felons Should Have The Right To Vote

May 20th 2015

Laura Donovan

Speaking at an Iowa forum on Tuesday, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated that felons deserve the right to vote -- doubling down on her her support for criminal justice reform.

"Many people in the community, because of where they live, because maybe they did make a mistake ... they don't get their voting rights back, which I totally disagree with," Clinton said, according to Bloomberg. "I think if you've done your time, so to speak, and you've made your commitment to go forward, you should be able to vote and you should be able to be judged on the same basis. You ought to get a second chance."

According to the nonprofit organization The Sentencing Project, nearly 6 million people were unable to vote in 2010 because of a prior sentence, an increase of 600,000 since the organization's 2004 report on the same subject. The majority of these people had finished their sentences and been released from prison in 2010, and 2 million could not vote on parole or probation. Only two states --- Maine and Vermont --- never strip residents of their right to vote, even felons who are currently incarcerated. Felon voting rights are determined by states.

"This is a fundamental question of democracy," Sentencing Project's Executive Director Marc Mauer said of the report findings. "These policies go back to the founding of this country. [The U.S.] was founded as a great experiment in democracy, but was very limited. Wealthy, white male landowners granted themselves the right to vote, but women, poor people, African Americans, and people with felony convictions could not vote."

Clinton's most recent comments on voter reform come a few weeks after she spoke at Columbia University regarding the need change to the criminal justice system. In the speech, Clinton spoke of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died in police custody last month and inspired mass demonstrations and unrest in Baltimore. Clinton stressed the need to keep low-level offenders out of prison.

"Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime, but it does a lot to tear apart families and communities," Clinton said in the speech. "One in 28 children in our country now has a parent in prison. Think about what that means for those children. Without the mass incarceration that we currently practice, millions fewer people would be living in poverty. This is a time for wisdom. A time for honesty about race and justice in America, and yes, a time for reform."

Criminal justice reform has bipartisan support. Just a day before Clinton discussed felon voting rights, Republican presidential contender Rand Paul said at a Philadelphia news conference that he's a bigger criminal justice advocate than anyone in the Democratic party.

"I've been a louder voice for criminal justice than any Democrat has been out there so far, and I'll continue that," Paul said. "I think the Democrats have taken the African American vote for granted. Every time I go into our big cities and talk to Black leaders, I hear them say, haven't talked to my congressman in years because they think my vote is automatic. I'm going to be a Republican who says no one vote anywhere in America is automatic for either party."

Late last year, Paul highlighted the need for drug reform during an appearance on "Real Time With Bill Maher."

"I will do everything I can to end the War on Drugs," Paul said. "Our prisons are full of black and brown kids. Three-fourths of the people in prison are black or brown and white kids are using drugs at the same rate as these other kids, but kids who have less means, less money."

During the same segment, Paul said it’s "a fiscally conservative thing to want less people in prison, particularly non-violent people because it’s extraordinarily expensive."

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