Source: Associated Press
Voting rights for people convicted of felonies have been debated heavily in North Carolina in the past few months. What started as a lawsuit filed by civil rights leaders and ex-offenders has turned into a public spectacle of ping-ponging legislative orders between various panels of judges and members of the NC GOP. Soon the game may finally end though, and felony offenders in North Carolina might finally have an answer as to whether or not they can register to vote while on probation or parole.
On May 6, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued an order stating that they would take over the case, according to the Associated Press. While the decision of the Supreme Court to take over the case likely means a decision will be reached before the November primary, it does mean that the recent decision by a panel of Court of Appeals judges to block the original trial-court ruling will hold through the May primaries and potentially through July if a runoff is necessary.
In March, a panel of Superior Court judges that held the original trial on the lawsuit filed by civil rights leaders once again struck down the 1973 law that keeps felony offenders from being able to register to vote until after they have completed probation or parole. They cited the law’s roots in Reconstruction-era white supremacy and its subsequent discimination against Black residents as their reasoning for the law being struck down.
Despite the judge’s ruling, registration applications to vote by felony offenders were not immediately approved by the State Board of Elections due to the anticipated appeal from Republican legislators, and were instead kept by the Board and considered “incomplete”. This proved to be a good move by the Board of Elections, as the Republican appeal did not take long.
Throughout this whole ordeal, NC GOP lawmakers have maintained that the 1973 law was approved without discriminatory intent, as it treats all felony offenders the same. After the March ruling by trial court judges, an appeal was filed by Republican legislative leaders named in this lawsuit, and in April, a panel of Court of Appeals judges blocked the trial-court ruling that would have allowed those on parole or probation to register to vote.
Now with this move by the state Supreme Court to take over the case, felony offenders at a minimum still have to wait through the May primaries and potential July runoffs. Hopefully by the November midterm elections the Supreme Court will restore the voting rights of the roughly 56,000 people on probation or parole who are currently living, working, and paying taxes in our communities without any say in our elections.