STORY BY LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE / the root

So which one will it be, folks? If you're voting on the Democratic side, are you going for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Who really has the interests of the Black electorate at heart? A lot is at stake this year, when 31 percent of the eligible voters will be either Black or Hispanic.

The furious competition to win Black voters on the Democratic side is giving us something we haven't seen in over 50 years: a real fight for the Black vote, with candidates talking about issues that pertain to African Americans and activists calling out those candidates.

The 7.7 percent of African Americans (580,000) behind bars, the highest unemployment rates for blacks since the 1980s, 38 percent of black children living in poverty,black households having only 6 percent of the wealth of white ones and a 1.7 percent Small Business Administration loan rate for black business…It's time to get serious: Who is better for black voters? 

Hillary Clinton

The former secretary of state and senator from New York has a specific funding plan for HBCUs. Sanders does not. (Clinton’s higher education plan calls for $25 billion over 10 years to support private historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions. Her campaign said the plan was modeled after a program that was proposed in Congress last summer as a companion to President Obama’s free community college idea.)

 Clinton's first major address of her campaign was on justice reform, with a focus on institutional racism. Though she offered few policy commitments, her focus on the topic, as well as her highlighting of racism, was more than we've heard from any Democratic candidate since the Rev. Jesse Jackson when he ran for the presidency in 1984 and 1988.   

But the last few weeks have been challenging for Clinton on policies affecting African Americans. Recently, the hashtag #WhichHillary trended on Twitter and highlighted her history of inconsistencies. 

The hashtag started after Black Lives Matter activist Ashley Williams disrupted a fundraiser in Charleston, S.C., over a statement Clinton made in 1996, when she told an audience that young people who committed crimes had to be "brought to heel." She also used the phrase "superpredators"—a theory advanced about black youths by Princeton professor John DiIulio in 1995 that has since been discredited. (Clinton now says, "Looking back, I shouldn't have used those words.")

Other blasts from Clinton's past keep coming back to haunt her. In 2008, during a Democratic debate, the seven candidates onstage were asked if they would end the crack-and-powder-cocaine sentencing disparity and apply it retroactively to those already in jail. Clinton was the only candidate to say no to retroactivity.

She's also having difficulty distancing herself from the record of her husband, former President Bill Clinton—specifically his 1996 welfare-reform bill and the largest crime bill in U.S. history, which he signed in 1994 and included over $9 billion in prison funding.     

Clinton's current problem is also that so much of what she says now is not backed up by legislation she worked on while she was a member of the U.S. Senate. As with so many other voting decisions, black voters must walk on by faith regarding which Clinton would show up at the White House. Clinton does have the high praise of many black lawmakers, who swear that she has always been focused on the concerns of African Americans.  

"We have a relationship; it didn't just start with this campaign," Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) told The Root. Brown was a Clinton supporter in 2008 until the very end. "She has been involved in issues impacting African Americans before, during and after the campaign was over," Brown said.

Bernie Sanders

So, what about the Vermont senator? Is he better than Clinton?

Well, Sanders voted for the massive Clinton crime bill, too. But then there's the fact that he was also involved in the civil rights movement at a time when Hillary Clinton was a “Goldwater girl.”  Sen. Goldwater voted against the 1964 landmark civilrights legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sexual orientation and national origin.

The fact is, among presidential candidates, only Jesse Jackson has a more impressive record of involvement in the civil rights movement than Sanders, who supported Jesse Jackson for resident in 1988.

Sanders was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Chicago and was arrested at several civil rights demonstrations. Over the last few weeks, more images and video of Sanders have surfaced of him being arrested at anti-segregation protests., housing discrimination protests and leading civil rights demonstrations.

The Sanders campaign has put out its own HBCU-specific plan, which says that “everyone in America who has the desire and the ability will be able to receive a tuition-free education at a public HBCU.” His campaign noted that 76 percent of students enrolled in historically black colleges attended public ones.

The campaign also said that Sanders is calling for a “$30 billion fund to support private, nonprofit HBCUs, minority-serving institutions and other nonprofit schools.” The funding, according to the campaign, could be used by colleges “to reduce tuition and the cost of attending an HBCU.”

What many defenders of Sanders say about him is that you won't find statements from him in the 1990s about "superpredators" around issues of justice reform but, rather, a discussion around how poverty and crime are connected. Sanders was an associate member of the Congressional Black Caucus (when it had associate memberships) in the 1990s, yet has only recently offered a bill on ending federal funding of private prisons and signedon to a racial-profiling bill authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) that has been around for years.  

There's no doubt that both Sanders and Clinton have focused on issues that affect Black communities more than all of the Republican candidates who have competed, other than Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John Kasich of Ohio. Neither Sanders nor Clinton is likely to be able to push the key points of a Black agenda through an obstructionist Congress, however, just as President Obama could not get the No. 1 issue on the Hispanic agenda—immigration reform—through Congress.

Plus, neither candidate was a standout legislatively on Black issues.

Here’s how they stand on otherissues effecting voters according to a report by the The Daily Dot:

Sanders, a Vermont senator and self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, is widely considered among the most progressive elected leaders in Washington. Throughout his more than three decades of public service, Sanders has worn a lot of hats—mayor of the city Burlington, congressman, and senator. Yet, so has his opponent in the quest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination—frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Clinton, a former first lady, New York senator, and secretary of state, sits slightly to the right of Sanders. As such, she has had to deal with Sanders differently than other candidates—which is to say, she has to take him seriously as a rival and tout her left-leaning policy positions more than she might if her challenger were decidedly more centrist.

Immigration

Sanders: Sanders has labeled himself a "strong supporter of immigration reform," but has voted against such efforts when the details haven't been to his liking. He is in favor of creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States and has advocated in favor of programs like the DREAM Act. However, he's been skeptical of guest worker programs and the expansion of things like H-1B visas that, he argues, largely serve as a way for large corporations to keep wages low. He voted in favor of "sanctuary cities" where law enforcement officials don't function as immigration police, and he opposed both making English the official language of the U.S. government and building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Clinton: Clinton has been a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and has advocated for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that includes paying a fine, filling in back taxes, and learning English. She's sponsored bills intended to fund social services, such as healthcare and education for non-citizens. Clinton was a vocal supporter of President Obama's executive action as well as the idea of "sanctuary cities." While in the Senate, Clinton voted in favor of building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border but later backed off the idea during a debate with then-candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential primary, insisting the bill she voted for shouldn't be enacted as written. 

She's also called for increases in law enforcement presence along both the Mexican and Canadian borders. She has largely opposed guest-worker programs, but she has made an exception for the agricultural sector. While on the campaign trail in 2008, Clinton spoke approvingly about the idea of giving drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants but then backtracked shortly thereafter. Earlier this year, a Clinton campaign spokesperson noted that she now fully supports the idea.

Guns

Sanders: Even though Sanders has an "F" rating from the NRA for his opposition to decreasing the waiting period for gun purchases and voted in favor of the 1994 assault-weapons ban, when it comes to gun control, his record is more complicated than the National Rifle Association's blanket disapproval may suggest. He voted against 1993's Brady Bill, likely the most substantial gun control law ever signed into law, as well as bills allowing firearms to be carried in checked bags on Amtrak trains and banning lawsuits against gun dealers and manufacturers for crimes committed by their customers.

Clinton: Clinton has long been an advocate of strong gun-control laws. In her book Living History, Clinton wrote that Congress's inability to pass meaningful gun-control legislation following the Columbine school shooting inspired her to run for Senate in the first place. "We have to rein in what has become almost [an] article of faith, that anybody can own a gun anywhere, anytime," she said during a speech last year. "And I don’t believe that."

While in the Senate, Clinton voted against bills shielding gun vendors and manufacturers from liability on actions taken by their customers. She recently said that opponents of gun control regulations, like the universal background checks Congress was unable to enact following the Sandy Hook shootings, "hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people." During her 2000 Senate campaign, she favored a national licensing regimen for all firearms, but told debate moderator Tim Russert in 2008 that she had since backed off from the idea.

Domestic surveillance

Sanders: When the Patriot Act, though which though which much of the post-9/11 domestic spying on the electronic communications of American citizens has been justified, initially passed in 2001, Sanders was one of 66 members of the House of Representatives to vote against it. In the years since, he has been one of the leading voices in Washington against domestic surveillance. After the leak ofNSA documents by Edward Snowden in 2013, Sanders called the agency's wholesale collection of cellphone metadata "alarming and absolutely unacceptable." He also joined with Patriot Act author Rep. James Sensenbrenneron co-authoring a bill that would have prohibited the National Security Agency from collecting the call records of American citizens.

Clinton: In 2001, Clinton voted for the Patriot Act and then voted in favor of reauthorization six years later. Since the Snowden revelations, she has expressed concerns about the NSA's surveillance programs, but she has largely avoided the issue and not come out with concrete policy proposals. Even when Snowden is brought up in her book Hard Choices, Clinton declines to render an opinion on one side or the other.

War and peace

Sanders: Sanders is as staunchly anti-war as any elected official in Washington. He voted against approving the Iraq War in 2002 and has consistently advocated for deescalating the conflict in Afghanistan. In 2007, he cosponsored a bill that would have required the president to get the explicit approval of the Senate before taking military action against Iran and, even as far back at 1999, voted against putting U.S. ground troops in Kosovo. In the current fight against the Islamic State, Sanders opposes the United States taking a leading role in the conflict.

Clinton: Clinton's record on foreign policy is one that people like Time's Michael Crowley have labeled "unapologetically hawkish." By the time she left the Senate in 2008, National Journal rated her as the 40th most liberal senator when it came to foreign policy, putting her squarely on the right side of the party.

In the Senate, she voted in favor of the Iraq War in 2002, but later came to admit she "got it wrong. Plain and simple." As secretary of state, she backed the "surge" in Afghanistan, advocated for arming the Syrian rebels, and has been a strong defender of the military's use of targeted drone strikes.

To further investigate where the candidates stand on a litany of different issues, check out the records of both Clinton and Sanders maintained by OnTheIssues.org.