At-Large Councilmember Robert White
At-Large Councilmember Robert White Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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When At-Large Councilmember Robert White announced last night that he would be appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show, the first question LL (and others) had was: “Why?”

A spokesperson for White says the goal wasn’t to change hearts and minds, but to bring his message to a wider audience.

With unanimous support from the D.C. Council and Attorney General Karl Racine, White recently introduced a bill that would give currently incarcerated felons the right to vote from prison. People incarcerated for misdemeanors in D.C. already have the opportunity to cast a ballot, and upon release from prison, those convicted of felonies in D.C. have their voting rights restored.

White says his bill would be the first in the nation to restore voting rights to felons currently serving time. Only Maine and Vermont have not disenfranchised prisoners.

Carlson framed the discussion around proposals from two Democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke. Sanders supports enfranchisement for currently incarcerated felons; O’Rourke’s position is less clear, though he has said he would distinguish between violent and nonviolent prisoners.

Above a chyron that read “DC MOVES TO LET CONVICTED RAPISTS, MURDERERS VOTE,” White argued that convicted felons do not lose all their civil liberties, including the right to an attorney, so they should not lose the right to vote.

“In a democracy, the right to vote is a much more fundamental right than the right to counsel,” White said.

White also tried out the somewhat shaky argument that historically the U.S. has “expanded the right to vote, not contracted it.” (Women and African Americans got the right to vote 100 and 150 years ago, respectively.)

Although there is ample evidence to the contrary, Carlson let it slide and instead focused on the fact that the right to vote is not specifically spelled out in the Constitution—but the individual right to own a gun is.

“You’re not trying to expand that actual Constitutional right to prison inmates, are you?” he asked.

“Do they have a well-regulated militia in prison?” White retorted.

Carlson also suggested White’s bill was self-serving, and asked whether he would campaign in prisons.

White said that he probably would, “if it were necessary.”

“We try to make sure that the people who commit crimes have the resources they need so that when they come back to our city, they don’t find themselves in the same state,” White said. “But they find themselves with opportunities. That means that they need access to our democracy.”

At that, Carlson let out a chuckle.

“I’m not sure I follow the reasoning, but I appreciate your enthusiasm, and above all, your willingness to come on,” he said.