NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A person serving a felony sentence can register to vote once they leave prison starting July 27 following legal battles over voting in the state.
In March, a state judge ruled that felons on probation, parole or post-release supervision are eligible to vote, striking down a 1973 law that restricted them from doing so. A 2019 lawsuit from Community Success Initiative challenging the law called the statute unconstitutional and discriminatory, specifically toward Black people.
Research shows North Carolina is one of 12 states where the majority of its prison population is Black, but Black people only make up 21% of the state’s population.
The move would add around 46,000 people to North Carolina’s Voting rolls, according to a board of elections spokesperson.
“N.C.G.S. § 13-1’s denial of the franchise to persons on felony probation, parole, or post-release supervision violates the North Carolina Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Free Elections Clause,” Judges Lisa Bell and Keith Gregory wrote in their March decision.
The move was temporarily put on hold at the Republican-controlled North Carolina Court of Appeals due to a writ of supersedeas filed by House Speaker Timothy Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phillip Berger on April 5. The stay was allowed to continue through the May 17 and July 26 primary elections. It read:
“The status quo established by the North Carolina Supreme Court’s 10 September 2021 order in this case shall remain in effect through these elections. Thereafter, the North Carolina State Board of Elections is ordered to take actions to implement the ‘Final Judgment and Order’ for subsequent elections.”
Attorneys for the Community Success Initiative asked the State Supreme Court to intervene, a request Republicans characterized as a way to avoid the appeals process.
In May, the State Supreme Court, which has a Democratic majority, agreed to take up the case. Until the case is heard, the North Carolina Board of Elections has decided to proceed with the “staus quo.”
According to the board of elections, “this means that, for the time being, any person serving a felony sentence outside of prison or jail is eligible to register.”
House Rep. Deb Butler approved of the action.
“Once a person has completed their prison sentence and paid their debt to society, they deserve to participate in that society fully and the right to vote is a fundamental right that they should enjoy,” Butler said.
It is unclear if registered felons would retain their eligible status if the appeal were to succeed.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org