Screenshot: The Hill

The question of whether we should extend voting rights to incarcerated people is an important one for the left to grapple with, so it’s good to see the issue getting some pickup in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Unfortunately, this conversation began—and is persisting—with the disingenuous framing OK, SO YOU’D LET THE BOSTON BOMBER VOTE??

During the CNN town hall event where the latest iteration of this conversation took place on Monday, Bernie Sanders got the question and handled it adeptly, saying, yes, even those convicted of violent crimes should be allowed to vote. Kamala Harris had a much more muddled answer in the same forum, and, judging by her comments to a press gaggle on Tuesday night, she is only getting more confusing on the subject. She fell into the trap, blabbering incoherently until landing on what she thought was solid ground: Yeah, I’m a cop, I believe bad people shouldn’t have rights.

“Yeah, I mean, listen, it’s a complex issue,” Harris began.

She continued, and I need to capture this for how wishy-washy it is all written out:

Look, I’m running for president of the United States, so I’m going to be very thoughtful and serious about the issues that I weight in on, and this is one of them. And so I’m going to think about it and talk to experts and I’ll let you know.

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Did you know?? She’s running, and will definitely have a specific answer to this highly specific question—again asked by a Harvard student who apparently identifies as a centrist—at a later date.

She continued (emphasis mine):

But, you know, do I think that people who commit murder, people who are terrorists, should be deprived of their rights? Yeah, I do, I’m a prosecutor. There have to be serious consequences.

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“I’m a cop,” Harris says. Don’t get mad at me for calling her a cop when she’s out here touting her (former) role depriving people’s rights as the top law enforcement official in California. To her credit, she did go on to acknowledge that voting rights are also widely deprived from formerly incarcerated people—those who have “served their time,” she said—and that rectifying that is urgent work.

But when the ace reporter pressed her on the Boston bomber yet again, she replied: “I’m saying that I’ll weigh in specifically, but that’s a value I bring to it, yeah.”

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The value....I bring........what on earth does this mean? I’ll have my team focus group test this and then we’ll put out a statement saying in a roundabout way that the Boston bomber shouldn’t be allowed to vote, but felons who have “served their time” should?

Running for president is a borderline psychotic undertaking, but you have to do better than don’t forget, I was a cop when you’re on the spot.

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Finally, in case it’s not already clear, I despise the framing of this issue around the Boston bomber. Yes, even he should be allowed to vote, and any Democrat worth their salt on this issue must be ready to respond to people who try to frame an issue of basic civil rights around the most extreme scenarios. But using him as your starting point—as a journalist or a member of the public—betrays that your only interest in engaging with this issue comes from a place of bad faith. It likely also means you’re none too interested in grappling with the number of people this country imprisons—north of two million and growing all the time. That’s enough to be a top 10 major U.S. city. Imagine what their voting powers could mean when you look at who opposes this idea.