Top adviser defends Sanders support for inmate voting: 'Everybody should have a right to vote'

A senior adviser to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Biden faces new Iran challenges after nuclear scientist killed MORE’s 2020 presidential campaign defended the Vermont independent’s support for allowing imprisoned felons to vote, calling it a fundamental right for all Americans.

“Everybody should have a right to vote,” Chuck Rocha told Hill.TV during an interview on “Rising.”

“Sure, it may not look good on paper for somebody who has done some violent crime but if you start eliminating people outright where do you stop and where do you start and who does that,” he added.

Vermont is one of just two states that allow inmates to vote from prison.

In April, Sanders called on more states to extend the vote to felons behind bars.

"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,” Sanders said during a town hall in Iowa.

Rocha’s comments come after Sanders released a criminal justice reform plan over the weekend that aims to curb the U.S. prison population.

The proposal calls for a “top to bottom” overhaul of the nation’s criminal justice system. This includes scaling back on long prison sentences, banning private prisons, legalizing marijuana, ending cash bail and addressing police brutality.

The plan also calls for abolishing the death penalty and solitary confinement.

Several 2020 White House hopefuls have released criminal justice reform plans.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Warren, Brown voice support for controversial Biden budget office pick Biden's economic team gets mixed reviews from Senate Republicans MORE (D-Mass.) unveiled her plan on Tuesday, which calls for abolishing the 1994 crime law authored by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Senate approves two energy regulators, completing panel Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race MORE, though it doesn’t mention him by name.

Biden’s backing of the 1994 crime bill has put him at odds with his fellow Democratic rivals, who have criticized his role in crafting the law. Critics have argued that the crime bill has been a key driver in leading the rise of mass incarnations in both federal and state prisons.

But the former vice president wasn’t the only 2020 hopeful to support the controversial crime bill. Sanders also voted in favor it, though he stated at the time that he had “a number of serious problems” with it, and argued that his vote had mainly to do with the bill's inclusion of the Violence Against Women Act

Nevertheless, in light of this record, Biden was one of the first candidates to release a criminal justice reform plan, which is similar to Sanders’s own proposal in calling for abolishing the death penalty and eliminating federal private prisons. 

—Tess Bonn