Expanded voter eligibility now includes North Carolina with previous felony convictions

North Carolinians with prior felony convictions will be able to vote after the North Carolina Court of Appeals recently upheld a ruling in favor of expanding voter eligibility.

The judgment, delivered on July 27, overturns 56,000 people newly eligible to vote, marking the largest expansion of voting rights in the state since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The decision is not final. The plaintiffs appealed the decision, and in May the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear the trial.

Until a new ruling is issued, the North Carolina Board of Elections has confirmed that “anyone serving a criminal sentence outside of jail or prison is eligible to register to vote and vote” from July 27.

Community Success Initiative c. Moore

Previously, North Carolina Law bars people from voting until they are “unconditionally released” from probation, parole or a suspended sentence.

The original trial Community Success Initiative c. Moorewas filed by four nonprofit organizations that sued two Republican lawmakers, the North Carolina State Board of Elections, and several board members over voting rights.

The plaintiffs argued that the government has used felony disenfranchisement to remove political power from black people in North Carolina since Reconstruction and that current election laws extend the disenfranchisement.

In their formal complaint, the plaintiffs wrote that “this scheme massively harms African Americans, who make up about 20% of North Carolina’s voting population, but 40% of those who are disenfranchised while on probation, parole, or a suspended sentence.”

They also alleged that the laws condition the right to vote on one’s ability to pay court costs. Court costs have increase 400% over the past 20 years in North Carolina, according to NC Policy Watch, and current General Court of Justice fees can cost up to $147.50.

For these reasons, plaintiffs argued that defendants violated the state constitution’s provision on free elections, the equal protection clause, the freedom of speech and assembly clause, and the prohibition on qualifications. property to vote.

State attorney Orlando Rodriguez agreed that the racial basis for the historic felony disenfranchisement is “very shameful.” according the North Carolina public press.

Rodriguez challenged the Plaintiffs’ argument on technical terrainarguing that the law challenged by the plaintiffs cannot disenfranchise those convicted of crimes and that instead the relevant law was a constitutional provision of 1875, which the plaintiffs have not challenged.

Additionally, attorneys representing the North Carolina State Board of Elections have argued that state law reforms in the 1970s reduced disproportionate disenfranchisement.


Suffrage advocates were energized by the decision. In a rally the day the decision was made, Kerwin Pittman, Director of Policy and Programs at Emancipate North Carolinahighlighted the decision’s impact on the political power of individuals, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

“What we’re about to do is wake up a sleeping giant. These 56,000 people are my people, individuals touched by justice and involved in justice, who for years lawmakers did not want to see them vote, let their voices be heard for years, ”said Pittman at the rally.

Theodore M. Shaw, a distinguished law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hailed the ruling as a strength for democracy, especially in a society that disproportionately incarcerates people of color.

“The idea that people shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they’ve been convicted of a crime at one time or another – especially when so much of it is driven by the war on drugs, which disproportionately hit black and brown people — is a tragic notion,” Shaw said. He pointed out that black and brown people do not use drugs in higher proportions than whites.

However, others are skeptical of the decision’s validity. Republican Senator Warren Daniel, co-chairman of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting and Elections Commissionimplied the decision would be a judicial override in a 2021 NPR interview.

“If a judge prefers a different route to recovering these rights, then he or she should come to the General Assembly and propose that route,” he said in the statement. interviewthat followed the state’s initial Superior Court ruling in 2021.

Defense attorney Sam Hayes appealed the lower court’s decision an “absurd decision that goes against our constitution and casts further doubt on the integrity of elections in North Carolina,” according to NPR.

Implications for the midterm elections

Carissa Byrne Hessick, a prominent law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote in an email to The Chronicle that the ruling’s effect on the upcoming election is uncertain.

She referenced a Vox from 2018 study, which analyzed the emancipation of 150,000 ex-felons in Florida as a case study and concluded that “ex-felons vote at low rates. And when they do, there is no strong partisan bias.

Shaw also acknowledged little potential for the decision to influence future elections, but argued that the political impact of the decision is less than that of principle.

“The reasons for advocating for the restoration of the right to vote to people who have served their sentence are not political. It is not about influencing the outcome of an election. It is to recognize that [these] people are still citizens, it’s to treat them as full human beings and restore them to productive roles in our society,” Shaw said.

Comments are closed.