Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Monday night that even "terrible people" like Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should have the right to vote while they are behind bars.
At a CNN town hall discussion in New Hampshire, Harvard University student Anne Carlstein asked the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination to clarify his position that convicted felons should be able to vote while serving time in prison.
"Does this mean that you would support enfranchising people like the Boston Marathon bomber, a convicted terrorist and murderer?" Carlstein asked Sanders. "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 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," Sanders said. "But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy — yes, even for terrible people. Because once you start chipping away ... you're running down a slippery slope."
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Tsarnaev resides at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. His attorneys argued in December that his death sentence, which he received for his role in the bombings that left three dead and hundreds wounded at the 2013 Boston Marathon, should be tossed.
"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," Sanders said.
The senator's remarks drew applause from the crowd that had gathered, but also a critique from moderator Chris Cuomo.
"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," Cuomo remarked. "You're sure about that?"
"I think I have written many 30-second opposition ads throughout my life. This will be just another one," Sanders said. "This is what I believe. You believe in democracy, you believe that every single American 18 years of age or older, who is an American citizen, has the right to vote."
The Republican National Committee issued a statement Tuesday saying Sanders "seems to get more radical by the week."
"With calls to eliminate private health insurance, give health care to illegal immigrants, allow for the government-takeover of key industries and even give terrorists and sex offenders the right to vote, Sanders’ socialist schemes would bankrupt America, turn back the clock on progress, and are far out of the mainstream," RNC Spokesperson Mandi Merritt said.