DANIEL VAUGHAN: Democrats jump the shark on Boston Marathon bomber’s voting rights

April 26, 2019

Every town hall that CNN hosts for the Democratic Party reveals that yet another candidate is trying to out-crazy the person that spoke before them. Case-in-point: Bernie Sanders waded out of his socialist schtick this week to announce he supports the restoration of full voting rights for convicts sitting in jail cells — including people like the infamous Boston Marathon bomber.

And instead of anyone telling him that was a crazy idea, other contenders, like Kamala Harris, just said, “We need to have that conversation.”

It is important to note that what Sanders and Harris proposed during the town hall is drastically different than what some states like Florida are doing in criminal justice reform. Florida voters in 2018 strongly supported reinstating voting rights to ex-convicts who served their sentences and were then free to rejoin society.

Reverting people to full citizenship rights post-prison is a noble goal that makes sense — declaring that everyone, including prisoners, never lose any constitutional rights in prison is crazy.

Sanders’s exact line was that voting is an inherent right to our democracy, and any attempt to limit that right affects us all. As RealClearPolitics reported:

“I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy,” Sanders said at a CNN town hall. “Yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away, you’re running down a slippery slope.”

“I believe even if they are in jail, they’re paying the price to society, that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy,” Sanders added.

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

Later, CNN raised the topic with Kamala Harris, and as a former prosecutor, we know Harris has an opinion on this. Don Lemon’s exact question on this was: “But people who are in — convicted, in prison, like the Boston Marathon bomber, on death row, people who are convicted of sexual assault, they should be able to vote?”

Harris answered: “I think we should have that conversation.”

The next day, Harris started backpedaling, trying to clean up the mess she created for herself by saying restoring the rights of violent criminals helps foster a “vibrant democracy.”

It’s interesting to note in her attempts at clean-up that she’s trying to talk more about ex-convict rights, conflating that with current prisoners.

Harris is a lawyer, the former attorney general of California. She knows what Sanders is calling for is ridiculous. Prisoners lose a whole host of their civil and political rights when entering prison, rights much more fundamental than voting.

We don’t allow prisoners to carry guns in prison, diminishing their Second Amendment rights to nothing. We prevent them from peacefully assembling like any other citizen, and we severely curtail the large number of ways they could exercise their religion, restricting their First Amendment rights.

While in prison, the guards can search cells at will, violating Fourth Amendment search and seizure notions. And we do not allow felons to vote because we do not let people who broke the law turn around and vote on the people writing those laws.

When prisoners have paid their debt to society, we can reinstate their rights back to that of a full citizen. But not until then.

Contrary Harris’ press secretary, her backpedaling on the need for a “conversation” did not make for a “thoughtful answer.” Harris is conflating the positions of people who have paid their debt to society with those who are still in prison.

When someone asks you if the Boston Marathon bomber, who in prison for murdering and injuring innocent men and women with homemade bombs, should be able to vote, the easy answer is simple: “No.”

Instead, Harris was more scared of being outflanked by Sanders (who was also dodging questions on socialism’s failures across the world). So she jumped onboard with whatever Sanders said, just like she did with Elizabeth Warren’s calls for impeachment.

Harris and the rest of the Democratic field aren’t showing much backbone; they immediately agree with whatever crazy thing the other says. As Jim Geraghty notes, this trend shows the blue bubble these candidates live in:

One of the underappreciated aspects of the 2020 primary is how many contenders have spent their lives in very liberal communities and states and have never had to calibrate their stances and rhetoric to appeal to voters in a place like Ohio, or Florida, or Pennsylvania. Kamala Harris had to appeal to voters in San Francisco and then California as a whole; Bernie Sanders had to appeal to voters in Burlington and Vermont. I suspect “restore the Boston Marathon bomber’s voting rights” would not be a popular rallying cry in much of the country.

We already know Sanders is just an old crazy socialist; we expect bad ideas from him. But on paper, Kamala Harris was supposed to be the best candidate Democrats had to offer. Instead, she’s just trying to be a chameleon and reflect the desires of whatever crowd she’s in front of at the moment. That’s not the best trait to have in a social media world where everyone can watch every speech.

Democrats continue to show they have an incredibly weak field of candidates.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.