Aug 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

North Carolina court grants voting rights to felons on probation or parole

Voting boths await use
Voting boths await use at the Codington Elementary School polling station on May 6, 2008 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Photo: Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images

A North Carolina state court panel ruled Monday to reinstate voting rights to people who are on parole, probation, or supervised release for a felony, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The ruling restores voting rights to more than 55,000 people who have left prison but are still being supervised — a group that is disproportionately Black.

  • The ruling is the largest expansion of voting rights in North Carolina since the 1960s, Daryl Atkinson, co-director of Durham civil rights group Forward Justice, said at a press conference Monday, per the News & Observer.

State of play: The law had previously required North Carolina felons to complete their probation or parole before being allowed to register to vote, whereas other states allow prisoners to regain the franchise as soon as they leave prison, according to the News & Observer.

  • Republican leaders who defended the law said Monday that they intend to appeal the ruling and ask for the ruling to be blocked until the appeal is complete.

The big picture: Monday's ruling “delivers on a promise of justice by the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. a half century ago, that all people living in communities across the state deserve to have their voices heard in elections,” Stanton Jones, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said, per the Times.

  • Black people comprise 21% of North Carolina voters but 42% of those on parole or probation affected by this law, notes the News & Observer.
  • If the ruling survives appeal, "North Carolina will be the only state in the South to automatically restore voting rights to people after they leave prison," according to the News & Observer.
  • “Today, we enlarged the ‘we’ in ‘We the people,'" Atkinson said.

Advocacy groups and the N.C. State Board of Elections are already working to accommodate the new ruling.

  • The State Board of Elections said in a statement Monday that it is moving as quickly as possible to update its forms and materials to reflect the new ruling.
  • "Starting tomorrow, we plan to start a voter registration drive across the state,” Dennis Gaddy, founder of the Community Success Initiative, a Raleigh group that helps former prison inmates rejoin society, told the News & Observer.
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