Tens of thousands of North Carolinians on parole can now vote

By: - July 27, 2022 11:15 am

More than 55,000 North Carolina citizens with felony convictions who are on probation, parole or some other form of state supervision can now register to vote and will be able to cast a ballot in this year’s November elections.

The end of felony disenfranchisement for these groups follows a three-year legal battle that culminated in the largest expansion of voting rights in North Carolina since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling is not final, as the litigation remains ongoing and is heading to the state Supreme Court.

The 2019 complaint notes that state law denied the right to vote to tens of thousands of state residents because they have a felony conviction, barring them from voting until they are “unconditionally discharged” from their state supervision, often years after they get out of prison.

“In many cases, the disenfranchisement persists solely because of a person’s inability to pay court fees,” the complaint reads.

That same filing notes that African Americans make up 20% of the state’s voting population but 40% of those who were disenfranchised while on probation, parole or a suspended sentence.

On April 21, 2022, the Court of Appeals ruled that after the primary elections on May 17 and July 26, the State Board of Elections must implement a final judgement the trial court issued earlier in the year. The trial court judges ruled 2-1 that North Carolina’s felony disenfranchisement law is unconstitutional, and that all citizens who have been convicted of felonies must be allowed to register to vote.

In other words, with the July 26 primaries now passed, felony disenfranchisement for the specified groups is over in North Carolina. The only citizens who are ineligible to cast a ballot who have been convicted of a felony are those who are currently serving a prison sentence.

A broad coalition of criminal justice advocates will be at the Halifax Mall adjacent to the state Legislative Building  Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 to kick off the “Unlock Our Vote Freedom Summer” tour. The groups in attendance will include the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance, Forward Justice, the NC Justice Center and the ACLU of North Carolina. (Note: Policy Watch is a project of the NCJustice Center.) There will be food, a DJ, a voter registration drive and training for volunteers so they can conduct voter registration outreach in communities across the state.

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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.