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O'Rourke says he supports voting rights for nonviolent felons

O'Rourke says he supports voting rights for nonviolent felons
© Greg Nash

Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke said Wednesday he supports granting voting rights to people currently behind bars for nonviolent offenses, saying doing so would help mend racial disparities in voter turnout.

“When you look at the population in prisons today, it is disproportionately comprised of people of color; far too many there for nonviolent drug crimes. I want to make sure that time spent behind bars does not entail a stripping of your civic and constitutional rights. I would think especially for nonviolent offenders that we rethink removing the right to vote, and allow everyone, or as many as possible, to participate in our democracy,” the former Texas congressman said in Houston.

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O’Rourke stopped short of endorsing restoring voting rights for all felons. 

“For violent criminals, it’s much harder for me to reach that conclusion. I feel that, at that point, you have broken a bond and a compact with your fellow Americans, and there has to be a consequence in civil life to that as well,” he said. 

O’Rourke’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from The Hill. 

While several Democratic 2020 candidates endorse restoring voting rights to felons once they leave prison, the primary field is currently debating if and which felons should be able to vote while still behind bars.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief says congressional progressives looking to become stronger force in 2021 Obama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Americans have a choice: Socialized medicine or health care freedom MORE (I-Vt.) brought the conversation to the forefront Monday, saying all prisoners, including domestic terrorists such as the Boston Marathon bomber, should have the right to vote while they are incarcerated. 

“If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they’re going to be punished,” Sanders said. “They may be in jail for 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, their whole lives. That’s what happens when you commit a serious crime."

"But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy," he continued. "Yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away ... you’re running down a slippery slope. ... I do believe that even if they are in jail, they’re paying their price to society, but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy.” 

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro took a similar position as O’Rourke, saying nonviolent offenders should be able to vote while in prison. South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegConservative operatives Wohl, Burkman charged in Ohio over false robocalls LGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress Buttigieg says it's time to 'turn the page' on Trump administration MORE said felons should not be able to vote while they serve their sentences, and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden pushes into Trump territory The Hill's Campaign Report: One week from Election Day | Biden looks to expand map | Trump trails narrowly in Florida, Arizona The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - One week out, where the Trump, Biden race stands MORE (D-Calif.) said it was worth having a conversation about the issue.