Raleigh, N.C. (WITN) - A three-judge panel ruled Friday that felons who have been released from prison but who remain on probation solely because they owe fines, fees, or other debts can vote in North Carolina’s coming elections.
The decision undoes, at least temporarily, part of a North Carolina election law. It may be appealed.
Reaction to the ruling is getting mixed response. “It is outrageous for these judges to change the rules for an election when absentee ballots have already started going out and voting has begun. This is yet another example of why we need to elect Conservative Judges who will apply the law rather ran re-write the laws they don’t like,” said state GOP Chairman Michael Whatley.
The Court determined that the state’s law—which prevents citizens from voting until their “unconditional discharge” from probation, parole, or post-release supervision—violates both the Equal Protection Clause and the Constitution’s Ban on Property Qualifications because it conditions the right to vote on a person’s ability to pay fines, fees, and other debts associated with their previous felony conviction.
The judges issued a 2-1 ruling stopping the state from enforcing that part of the law, at least temporarily. The ruling opens the door for some felons on probation or parole to vote in North Carolina’s 2020 elections this fall
This lawsuit was filed on behalf of four individual North Carolinians, as well as several community groups who conduct voter registration and education, and work directly with people impacted by the criminal legal system: Community Success Initiative, the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, Justice Served NC, Inc, and Wash Away Unemployment. Forward Justice, Protect Democracy, and Arnold & Porter are representing the plaintiffs in the case.
Daryl V. Atkinson, Counsel and Co-Director of Forward Justice said, “Thousands of people in North Carolina got their right to vote back in time for this historic election, and tens of thousands got clarity that their right to vote cannot be tethered to how much money you have in your bank.”
The litigation is part of the broader ‘Unlock Our Vote’ Campaign, which aims to restore voting rights to nearly 60,000 people previously convicted of felonies, while simultaneously engaging the community through targeted voter education and registration efforts.