(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, told a CNN town hall on Monday night that "every person has a right to vote," even people who have been convicted and imprisoned for committing acts of murder and terrorism, even the Boston Marathon bomber.
On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, maiming 16, and leaving many more injured. The surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was sentenced to death.
Sanders laid out his position on this in response to a pointed question posed to him by a Harvard student--who specifically asked if he would permit the imprisoned Boston Marathon bomber to vote. When moderator Chris Cuomo followed up to make certain Sanders really was saying "the Boston Marathon bomber should vote, not after he pays his debt to society, but while he's in jail," Sanders would not back down.
"Look--this is what I believe," Sanders said. "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?
"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.
"This is a democracy. We’ve got to expand that democracy, and I believe every single person does have the right to vote." Even "terrible people," he said.
The answer came after Harvard student Anne Carlstein asked Sanders: "You have said that you believe that people with felony records should be allowed to vote while in prison. 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?"
Here's his full response:
Thank you for the question.
And let me just say this. What our campaign is about and what I believe is creating a vibrant democracy. Today, as you may know, we have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country on Earth. I want to see us have one of the highest voter turnouts.
And by the way, what we are seeing is more young people getting involved in the political process, but not enough. And in my view, if young people voted at the same percentage that older people voted in this country, we would transform this nation.
But to get to your point. We live in a moment where cowardly Republican governors are trying to suppress the vote. And in fact, right here, as you may know, in New Hampshire, the Legislature and the governor are working hard to make it more difficult for young people to vote.
And to me, that is incredibly undemocratic, un-American process, and I say to those people, by the way, if you don't have the guts to participate in free and fair elections, you should get another job and get out of politics.
All right? (Applause) So, here is -- 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; well, that person did that; not going to let that person vote -- you're running down a slippery slope.
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 to vote. But I do believe, 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.
Host Chris Cuomo followed up, asking Sanders if he’s sure that someone like the Boston marathon bomber should be allowed to vote -- not after he pays his debt to society, but while he's in jail. “Are you sure about that?" Cuomo asked.
"Well, Chris, I think I have written many 30-second opposition ads throughout my life. This will be just another one,” Sanders responded.
“But I do believe – look -- 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?
"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.
"This is a democracy -- we’ve got to expand that democracy, and I believe every single person does have the right to vote."
The terrorists behind the Boston Marathon attack were two brothers who came to this country from the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. The elder brother died in a shootout as police moved in to arrest him. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 25, was found hiding in a boat in a suburban backyard several days after the terror attack. He is now appealing his conviction on the grounds that his trial should have been moved outside the city where the attack happened.
Dzhokhar is a naturalized citizen; his late brother had applied for citizenship.