Asked at a CNN town hall Monday night if he thought felons should be allowed to vote — even while they’re incarcerated, not just after they’re released — Sanders said the country needs more people to vote.
“This is a democracy and we have got to expand that democracy, and I believe every single person does have the right to vote,” he said.
Sanders started his answer by pointing out the low rate of voter turnout in the United States when compared to other major democracies around the world. He said one of the primary priorities of his campaign is to make the US a “vibrant” democracy with a much higher voter turnout.
And, Sanders said, enfranchising people like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — the US citizen who helped bomb the Boston Marathon in 2013, killing three and injuring hundreds of others — is a part of that.
“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. Well, that person did that. Not going to let that person vote,’ you’re running down a slippery slope,” Sanders said when asked by a student if sex offenders, the Boston Marathon bomber, terrorists and murderers should have voting rights.
He added: “So I believe people commit crimes and they paid the price and they have the right to vote. 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.”
Later on Monday, Sen. Kamala Harris in her own CNN town hall said that she is open to allowing currently incarcerated people to vote, giving a noncommittal answer to Sanders’ proposal.
“People who are convicted, in prison, like the Boston Marathon bomber, on death row, people who are convicted of sexual assault, they should be able to vote?” asked CNN’s Don Lemon.
Harris said, “I think we should have that conversation.”
Her answer was vague and left open the possibility that she could eventually not support the plan.
“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 a long been an advocate of making sure people formally incarcerated are not denied the right to vote,” Harris said. “In some states they’re permanently deprived of the right to vote.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg unequivocally said felons should not be allowed to vote while serving their sentences.
“No,” he said during his CNN town hall Monday. “I do believe that when you are, when you have served your sentence, then part of being restored to society is that you are part of the political life of this nation again and one of the things that needs to be restored is your right to vote.”
He went on to say losing the right to vote is part of the punishment when someone is convicted of a crime.
“You lose your freedom and I think during that freedom it does not make sense to have an exception for it the right to vote,” Buttigieg said.
This story has been updated.