State of North Carolina must restore voting rights for former criminals

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A three-judge panel in North Carolina ruled 2-1 Monday that the state must restore voting rights for thousands of residents with crimes. Under current law, residents are prohibited from voting until they have been fully released from probation, parole, or conditional sentence.

The ruling, released by a Raleigh State Superior Court panel, could very well make North Carolina the only southern state to automatically restore people to the right to vote after serving their prison sentence, according to at the Washington Post.

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Daryl Atkinson, co-director of Forward Justice, a civil rights group in Durham, North Carolina, said the move was “the biggest expansion of voting rights in that state since the Voting Rights Act 1965 “.

He and other lawyers initially filed a lawsuit over a year ago challenging the law. In 2020, the same panel of judges ruled that the law’s requirement that those guilty of crimes must first pay monetary obligations was inapplicable because voting would be tied to financial capability, according to the Associated Press.

The decision was not written down. Republicans in North Carolina plan to appeal the ruling to a higher court.

Here’s more on the story, per the Post:

Lawyers representing plaintiffs who oppose the law argued in court last week that such policies were weapons to prevent black people from voting after the civil war in a bid to stifle their political power, according to the Caroline’s Public Press.

Opponents of the law have also claimed that in many cases deprivation of the right to vote persists due to inability to pay court costs. In other cases, North Carolinians convicted of crimes are placed under community supervision, without imprisonment, while paying taxes, and are still banned from voting for the entire period of probation.

Other challengers include several people on probation or parole, as well as civil rights groups such as the North Carolina NAACP and the Community Success Initiative, a group in Raleigh that helps former criminals reintegrate into society.

“As of today, if a person can just say that I am not in jail or in prison for a felony conviction, then that person can register and vote freely,” said Stanton Jones, an attorney. representing the challengers.

This simple change will empower 56,000 people, Jones added.

The plaintiffs argued in court that the denial of the right to vote from criminals “overwhelmingly” affects black Americans, who make up about 20% of the state’s electoral population and 40% of those barred from voting. during their probation or parole, depending on the criminal complaint.

Defense lawyers did not dispute these numbers but argued that these rates are due to disparities in the criminal justice system, not the law that determines when people can vote again.

Orlando Rodriguez, an attorney for Republican lawmakers, said they would not defend the law’s “shameful” history, but that it has improved dramatically since then. He argued that previously the law placed a heavy burden on people who seek reinstatement of their rights after completing their parole or probation process, when the process is now automatic, according to the News & Observer.

New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice says 28 states prohibit citizens from voting because of previous convictions. Millions of Americans are thus excluded from the vote.

Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of voting rights and elections for the Brennan Center, told the Post that much progress has been made in overturning these types of laws. Nearly a dozen states, including Florida, Kentucky, Iowa, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, California, Nevada, Colorado, Louisiana, and Washington, have moved toward recovery of the right to vote of criminals. The process of doing this varies from state to state.

Washington, DC, Maine, and Vermont are states where those convicted of felony never lose the right to vote, even while incarcerated.

Comparatively, after Florida residents voted in 2018 to restore the right to vote for those who committed crimes, the state’s GOP undermined the law by forcing them to pay fines and unpaid court costs first.


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