Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 Presidential hopeful, said Monday night at a CNN Town Hall that “terrible people,” including the Boston Marathon bomber and people convicted of sexual assault, should still be allowed to vote while incarcerated.
Another Democratic candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, agreed with Sanders’ sentiment, and later said, “We should have a conversation about that” when asked specifically about the Boston Marathon bomber.
Their respective responses stemmed from a question asked directly to Sanders by Anne Carlstein, a Harvard University student.
“You have said that you believe that people with felony records should be allowed to vote while in prison,” Carlstein said to Sanders. “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 could have a direct impact on women’s rights?”
— CNN (@CNN) April 23, 2019
The Boston Marathon bombing took placed on April 15, 2013, when pressure cooker bombs detonated near the finish line of the race, killing three and injuring hundreds more. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to death, and he remains in prison. He completed the act of planting the bombs with his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died during the manhunt for the two that ensued.
Sanders ultimately responded that yes, “the right to vote is inherent to our democracy […] even for terrible people.”
“If somebody commits a serious crime – sexual assault, murder – they’re gonna 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. Yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away and you say, ‘That guy committed a terrible crime, not gonna let him vote. Well, that person did that. Not gonna let that person vote,’ you’re running down a slippery slope,” he continued. “So, I believe that people who commit crimes, they pay the price. When they get out of jail, I believe they certainly should have the right the vote, but 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.”
Harris was later asked about Sanders’ response.
“I’m not sure if you were watching earlier, but Senator Bernie Sanders said that he is in favor of felons being able to vote while serving in prison,” said host and moderator Chris Cuomo. “He was asked specifically about people like the Boston Marathon bomber, also people who are convicted of sexual assault.”
Kamala Harris: “We should have that conversation” about allowing the Boston Marathon bomber to vote from prison. pic.twitter.com/TOqIlKYuQY
— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) April 23, 2019
“He said, ‘The right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people.’ Do you agree with that, Senator,” Cuomo asked.
“I agree that the right to vote is one of the very important components of citizenship, and it is something that people should not be stripped of needlessly, which is why I have been long an advocate of making sure the formerly incarcerated are not denied a right to vote […],” Harris said.
When pressed further specifically about the Boston Marathon bomber, Harris responded, “I think we should have that conversation.”
Three other candidates appeared during the series of Town Halls, including Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.