Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) said Monday that all felons, including terrorists and rapists, should be able to vote while serving out their prison sentences.
Asked during a CNN town hall in New Hampshire whether he believed people like the Boston marathon bomber should be disenfranchised, Sanders said no, and suggested that all restrictions on voting rights erode American democracy.
“If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they’re going to be punished,” he 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, ‘well that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote,’ or ‘that person did that, not going to let that person vote,’ you’re running down a slippery slope,” he continued. “So, I believe that people commit crimes, they pay the price. They get out of jail, I believe they certainly should have the right to vote. But I believe even if they’re in jail, they’re paying their price to society, but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy.”
Sanders, who is polling second only to Joe Biden, effectively split the Democratic candidates attending the town hall on the question of voting rights for felons in prison. Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) said she was open to having a “conversation” about whether terrorists and sexual offenders should be able to vote, while Southbend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg said definitively that he supports the restoration of voting rights after prison but not while someone is still serving their sentence.