I've been a huge fan of Elizabeth Warren since I saw her yelling at a cop during the 2012 Boston Pride Parade. I generally think that her past history as a Republican should actually be a selling point, as it demonstrates her capacity to examine the available evidence and change her mind. But one place where Bernie still stands out in front is his willingness to extend voting rights to people who are incarcerated.
I'm not surprised that Warren is hesitant to go all the way in allowing people to vote while still incarcerated — after all, unexamined biases against incarcerated people are extremely common — but I am disappointed.
The more I thought about it, however, I began to consider how strange it is that felon voting rights (during or after incarceration) tend to be such a partisan issue. As a progressive, I've come around to understand why it matters, as all human rights matter, particularly in an unjust legal system. As much as I hate it, I can at least understand the true authoritarian racist argument in favor of retaining free labor through a loophole-by-design of the 13th Amendment.
But when I think about the conservatives I know, and the philosophies they claim to adhere to, that's where the contradictions arise. For example, let's ignore the contrived veneer respectability that shines on every deceptive video from PragerU, and take their argumentative claims at face value and in good faith. PragerU pumps out plenty of content defending the Electoral College by rationalizing it around a fear of mob rule, or the "tyranny of the majority." From the perspective of the PragerU Thought Community, the Founding Fathers were very concerned that 500,000 people in Wyoming would be unjustly overruled by the 40 million in California. In order to prevent this potential future tragedy, it thus makes sense to amplify the senatorial powers of the people of Wyoming by 800 percent to make them truly equal to Californians. This perspective prioritizes the representational part of a "Democratic-Republic," and downplays the part about democracy (which is particular ironic, given the lip service paid by the American Imperialist Military Machine to "spreading democracy" across the globe. But I digress.)
So, the threat of mob rule is overwhelming. Now let's imagine a completely hypothetical scenario in which a tyrannical majority enacts laws that deliberately target minorities— in this case, let's say white Evangelical Christian men. Now they're all in prison. But if they still retained their voting rights, they would at least have some chance to turn that wicked weapon of democracy around, and use it to fight back against the tyranny of the majority mob.
This essentially weaponizes the concept of "democracy" as a form of mutual deterrence. Although it certainly could lead to mob rule, it also ensures a path to defeating that mob rule while still playing within the same set of rules.
The glaring flaw in this little thought experiment, of course, is the assumption that groups like PragerU are acting in good faith, and aren't just using realpolitik to enshrine their wealth and power like any other tyrant would. Unfortunately, the only way to change their minds would be to convince them that people who are or have been incarcerated are not some alien race of "criminals," but rather, actual human beings who are inherently deserving of the same rights and opportunities and liberties as everybody else. And that's not an easy task.