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All prisoners must be able to vote, no matter what their crime

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At the CNN Democratic 2020 presidential town hall this week, an audience member asked presidential candidates whether people should be allowed to vote while in prison. Doubling down on who these potential voters might be, she emphasized the Boston Marathon bomber and people convicted of sexual assault as examples.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said yes, a nod to his state where incarcerated people already vote. And Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who for some odd reason is the third leading contender, said no.

As a movement lawyer dedicated to building a world free from prisons and police, I often navigate, as many abolitionists do, this question about my work: “What about the murderers and rapists?” My answer is that to create a radically inclusive social democracy in the United States, everyone must have the option to vote, including people who are sitting in cages, on parole or probation, and in detention centers.

Last year, organizations like Dream Defenders and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition canvassed to successfully pass Amendment Four, re-enfranchising people with felony convictions. This was a huge win for one million people, but excluded those with sexual assault or murder convictions. Unfortunately, thousands of Floridians are saddled with criminal legal debt, fines and fees to pay before they can re-exercise their right to vote. Paying financial or societal debt is an uphill battle for the most vulnerable groups. A former client of mine was homeless and making minimum wage at a fast-food restaurant. We fought against her probation officer’s attempt to deny her successful completion of the terms of her release because she could not afford the........

© The Guardian