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Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks after Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden introduced her as his running mate. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks after Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden introduced her as his running mate. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks after Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden introduced her as his running mate. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher August 14, 2020

Kamala Harris is open to letting Boston bomber vote, but didn’t advocate for it

If Your Time is short

  • Harris has not said that she would advocate for giving the surviving Boston Marathon bomber the right to vote, only that she is open to it. 

  • Asked if convicted felons in prison such as the Boston Marathon bomber should be allowed to vote, Harris said: “I think we should have that conversation.”

  • Asked the next day to elaborate, Harris said, “I’m going to think about” whether felons such as the bomber should vote.

Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate drew an attack the same day from Republican Nancy Mace, who is running for a congressional seat in South Carolina.

Mace’s Aug. 11 tweet made a half dozen claims about Harris, a Democratic senator from California. One referred to the surviving bomber in the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon, who killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.  

Harris "advocated for restoring voting rights for the Boston bomber," Mace claimed.

During her own campaign for the presidential nomination, she said she is open to the idea, but she didn’t advocate for it.

A tossup race; the bomber

Mace, a state representative since 2018, describes herself as a single mom, businesswoman and former Waffle House waitress. The first woman to graduate from The Citadel military college in South Carolina, she is challenging first-term Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham in the Nov. 3 election. 

As of Aug. 7, the Cook Political Report rated the race a tossup

On July 31, a federal appeals court threw out the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who had been convicted for his role in the marathon bombing, leaving in place a life sentence. His lawyers argued that the mastermind of the attack was his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a gunfight with police a few days after the April 15, 2013 bombing. 

Harris worked as a prosecutor in Alameda County (Oakland) and in San Francisco, then was elected San Francisco district attorney in 2003 and 2007. In 2010, she was elected California attorney general, then was re-elected in 2014.

Harris open to letting the bomber vote

A series of CNN town halls on April 22, 2019, with candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination for president included sessions with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Harris. 

Sanders said that he believes all prisoners — including "terrible people" like the Boston Marathon bomber — should be allowed to vote. 

That prompted an exchange between Harris and host Don Lemon, who asked Harris what she thought of the idea.

Featured Fact-check

Harris: "I agree that the right to vote is one of the very important components of citizenship and it is something that people should not be stripped of needlessly, which is why I have been long an advocate of making sure that the formerly incarcerated are not denied a right to vote, which is the case in so many states in our country, in some states permanently deprived of the right to vote. 

"And these are policies that go back to Jim Crow. These are policies that go back to the heart of policies that have been about disenfranchisement, policies that continue until today, and we need to take it seriously."

Lemon: "But people who are 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: "I think we should have that conversation." 

Harris elaborates

On the campaign trail the next day, a reporter asked Harris to expand on her remarks about the Boston bomber, saying: "What is your view on felons voting from prison?"

In comments that her then-press secretary highlighted on Twitter, Harris replied by saying she would make a decision after giving the issue more thought: 

"Listen, it’s a complex issue, and I take it very seriously. Look, I’m running for president of the United States; I'm going to be very thoughtful and serious about the issues I weigh in on. And so I'm going to think about it, and I'm going to talk to experts, and I'm going to make a decision, and I'll let you know. I will tell you this: One, it's a complex issue, I'm fully aware of that. Two, we right now have got a lot of work to do with the people in our country who have served their time and have been prohibited from voting.

"Currently in our country there are 6 million people who have served their time and are still prohibited from voting, and that has been an area of focus for me for quite some time, and we have got to address that immediately. And so that is one of my first areas of focusing concern.

"But, do I think people who commit murder, or people who are terrorists, should be deprived of their rights? Yeah, I do. I'm a prosecutor, I believe there have to be serious consequences for the most extreme types of crimes."

Our ruling

Mace claimed that Harris "advocated for restoring voting rights for the Boston bomber."

Harris has not said that she would advocate for giving the surviving Boston marathon bomber the right to vote, only that she is open to a conversation about it. She emphasized that people who had served their sentences and been released should be able to vote. 

Mace’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. That meets our definition of Mostly False.

Our Sources

Twitter, Nancy Mace tweet (archived here), Aug. 11, 2020

Email, Nancy Mace campaign manager Mara Mellstrom, Aug. 13, 2020

Interview, Sabrina Singh, Kamala Harris campaign communications director and senior advisor, Aug. 13, 2020

Real Clear Politics, "Kamala Harris: We Should Have A Conversation About Letting Felons In Prison Vote," April 22, 2019

PolitiFact, "Bernie Sanders set off a firestorm over prisoners voting, but his facts are straight," April 24, 2019

Twitter, Ian Sams tweet, April 23, 2019

San Francisco Chronicle, "Kamala Harris clarifies response on whether prisoners should be allowed to vote," April 23, 2019; updated May 24, 2019

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Kamala Harris is open to letting Boston bomber vote, but didn’t advocate for it

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