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Bernie Sanders says even ‘terrible people’ should be allowed to vote

Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders(David Dermer/Associated Press)

Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Monday that all felons, including the Boston Marathon bomber, should retain the right to vote while behind bars.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, was responding to a question at a CNN town hall event in Manchester, N.H.

Harvard University student Anne Carlstein noted that Sanders has voiced support for felons being allowed to vote while imprisoned and asked if he would support enfranchising “the Boston Marathon bomber, a convicted terrorist and murderer” or if he thought those convicted of sexual assault “should have the opportunity to vote for politicians who have a direct impact on women’s rights?”

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In his response, Sanders said, “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.”

When people are imprisoned “they’re paying their price to society, but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy,” he added.

In a follow-up question, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo told Sanders, “You’re writing an opposition ad against you by saying you think the Boston Marathon bomber should vote, not after he pays his debt to society, but while he’s in jail. You sure about that?”

Sanders said, “This is what I believe. Do you believe in democracy? Do you believe that every single American 18 years of age or older who is an American citizen has the right to vote?”

He continued, “Once you start chipping away at that, believe me, that’s what our Republican governors all over this country are doing. They’re coming up with all kinds of excuses why people of color, young people, poor people can’t vote. And I will do everything I can to resist it.”

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted in April 2015 on all charges stemming from the Marathon bombings and their aftermath. He is currently challenging his death sentence.

On April 15, 2013, Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, detonated two bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others.

In the days that followed, the brothers killed MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, and later, engaged in a firefight with police in Watertown. During that gunfight, Boston police Sergeant Dennis Simmonds suffered a head wound that he died from a year later.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in the Watertown confrontation with police days after the blasts.


Travis Andersen and Steve Annear of Globe staff contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.