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In Maine, murderers and rapists allowed to vote from prison

Left, United States Senator Bernie Sanders has come under fire for a CNN Town Hall statement in support of allowing of convicted felons who are in prison, such as the Boston Marathon Bomber, murderers and rapists to be allowed to vote from prison. Right, Maine Sec. of State Matt Dunlap is sworn in by Gov. Janet Mills. Dunlap agrees with Sen. Sanders and his office has taken the official position of supporting prisoners, even convicted murders and rapists, being allowed to vote.

AUGUSTA – Maine is one of two states doing what Senator Bernie Sanders thinks we should do regarding allowing prisoners to vote, the other is his home state of Vermont.

In a CNN Presidential Town Hall, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont answered a question from a member of the audience saying he felt the United States should allow even murderers, rapists and terrorists, such as the Boston Marathon Bomber, to vote in prison.

The comment shocked a lot of Americans, because in 48 states, incarcerated felons are not allowed to vote. But in Maine, as in Senator Sanders’ home state of Vermont, even convicted felons who are serving their sentences in prison are still allowed to vote.

The Anne Carlstein, a student at Harvard University, asked Senator Sanders, “Senator Sanders, you have said that you believe that people with felony records should be allowed to vote while in prison. Does this mean you would support enfranchising people like the Boston Marathon Bomber, a convicted terrorist and murderer? Do you think that those convicted of sexual assault should have the opportunity to vote for politicians who can have a direct impact on women’s rights?”

Senator Sanders, in response, offered his reasoning for why, yes, even “terrible people” should be allowed to vote, even when they are in prison.

Even after being offered an assist from CNN Town Hall Moderator, clarifying that Sen. Sanders actually meant that he felt the Boston Marathon Bomber should be allowed to vote while he was in jail, which Sanders then confirmed.

Efforts to restrict access to voting for incarcerated felons have fallen short in Maine in recent decades. Efforts such as a 2014 proposal by Rep. Gary Knight (R – Livermore Falls) to restrict the ability of convicted murderers and those convicted of other Class A crimes, such as gross sexual assault, to vote from prison have been routinely voted down by Democrats in the Maine Legislature. In the case of the 2014 proposal, under the legislative procedure, Democrats only needed to muster enough votes to prevent passage of the bill by a 2/3 majority, but they still killed the bill with majority votes of almost all Democrats opposing the change in both the Maine House and Senate.

Some states permanently prohibit convicted felons from being allowed to vote, but most states just prohibit voting during the period of time the individual is incarcerated and then allow voting privileges to be restored when the individual has completed their prison sentence.

In Maine, however, a prisoner never loses their ability to vote, no matter the crimes they may have been convicted of.

An investigative report by a group out of Wisconsin in 2016 reported that more than 1,200 prisoners in Maine are registered to vote. If that number was accurate and has not declined, it would mean that about 50% of the adults incarcerated in Maine’s correctional system are registered to vote in Maine.

The only restriction on voting for those who are incarcerated for committing murder or other serious crimes is a requirement that anyone incarcerated in a state prison or county jail must register to vote in the municipality they established residence in before they were incarcerated, to which they intend to return.

This would appear to protect communities that host a state prison or county jail from having a large group of voters impacting local elections, but also facilitating the alignment of state laws around residency as they relate to keeping the prisoner qualified to vote.

Maine’s current Secretary of State, Matt Dunlap, has had his office submit testimony in support of allowing the practice to continue, telling the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that restricting access to even murderers and those convicted of Class A crimes was a “step backward in Maine’s proud tradition of providing access to the voting process and increasing voter participation.”

Sec. Dunlap has also cited difficulty of an administrative system to track eligibility of prisoners to vote as a reason not to restrict access to voting for those individuals.

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