The Corner


Sanders and Harris: We Should Restore the Boston Marathon Bomber’s Voting Rights

The Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston/Handout via Reuters)

During last night’s CNN town halls, Bernie Sanders endorsed reinstating the voting rights of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, and Kamala Harris indicated that she was open to the idea.

Anne Carlstein, a junior at Harvard, asked Sanders, “You have said that you believe that people with felony records should be allowed to vote while in prison. Does this mean that 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?

Sanders responded:

SANDERS: So here is — Anne, to answer your question, as it happens, in my own state of Vermont, from the very first days of our state’s history, what our Constitution says is that everybody can vote.  That is true.  So people in jail can vote.

Now, here is my view.  If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they’re going to be punished.  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, well, that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote.  Oh, that person did that, not going to let that person vote.  You’re running down a slippery slope.

So I believe that people commit crimes, they paid the price.  When they get out of jail, I believe they certainly should have the right to 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 said “We should have that conversation.

LEMON:  Another issue that I want to talk to you about — this is really important — 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.  He was asked specifically about people like the Boston Marathon bomber, also people who are convicted of sexual assault.  And he said, this is a quote, “The right to vote is inherent to our democracy, yes, even for terrible people.”  Do you agree with that, Senator? 

HARRIS:  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 that the formally incarcerated are not denied a right to vote, which is the case in so many states in our country, in some states permanently deprived of the right to vote. 

And these are policies that go back to Jim Crow.  These are policies that go back to the heart of policies that have been about disenfranchisement, policies that continue until today, and we need to take it seriously. 

LEMON:  But people who are in — convicted, in prison, like the Boston Marathon bomber, on death row, people who are convicted of sexual assault, they should be able to vote?  

HARRIS:  I think we should have that conversation.

She really wants to get rid of that tough prosecutor image, doesn’t she?

There are many injustices in this world. The fact that the Boston Marathon bomber cannot vote is not one of them. This monster put his bomb down right next to an eight-year-old boy and walked away. Three people were killed in the bombing and 264 people were wounded, with 16 people losing limbs. Separately the bombers ambushed an MIT police officer and killed him, and a Boston Police officer died as a result of injuries sustained during the shootout in Watertown.

One of the underappreciated aspects of the 2020 primary is how many contenders have spent their lives in very liberal communities and states and have never had to calibrate their stances and rhetoric to appeal to voters in a place like Ohio, or Florida, or Pennsylvania. Kamala Harris had to appeal to voters in San Francisco and then California as a whole; Bernie Sanders had to appeal to voters in Burlington and Vermont. I suspect restore the Boston Marathon bomber’s voting rights would not be a popular rallying cry in much of the country.

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