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 SandersFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally 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 ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegSanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Biden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate MORE said felons should not be able to vote while they serve their sentences, and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate Biden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate Poll: Six Dems lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (D-Calif.) said it was worth having a conversation about the issue.