Groups want NC law blocking former felons from voting thrown out

Posted August 13, 2020 7:37 p.m. EDT

— People who have been found guilty of a felony in North Carolina aren't allowed to vote until their sentence is completed, including paying all fines and fees. But advocates for the formerly incarcerated are working to change that.

A coalition of groups, including the state NAACP, has filed a lawsuit to try to overturn the law keeping about 60,000 people statewide from casting ballots even though they have finished serving their time.

The groups also have launched the Unlock Our Vote campaign to raise awareness of the problem and generate pressure on state lawmakers.

"You can take taxes out of my money, and if I go to work, you can tax me. But I can't vote for the people who're going to make decisions for my kids," Daquan Peters said. "I can't vote for the superintendent of the school. I can't vote for the president of the United States."

Peters served more than 12 years in prison for possession of crack cocaine. When he got out, he took two jobs to support his family, but because years on probation were tacked onto his sentence, North Carolina laws don’t allow him to vote.

People who’ve been released from prison can have their probation extended multiple times if they cannot pay off their fines, fees or restitution. It’s called an assessment, and the advocacy groups said the practice is disproportionately given to Black offenders.

"It makes me think of going back to being three-fifths of a man," Peters said, referring to the provision of the Constitution that counted enslaved people at three-fifths the rate of white people when determining congressional representation.

Daryl Atkinson, one of the attorneys in the case, was formerly incarcerated. He said the law withholding the vote from people for not paying fines and court fee is a classic example of taxation without representation.

"These folks are living every day in our communities, doing the right thing, but they have no civic voice, and that’s wrong," Atkinson said. "We’re going to change that."

About 17 other states already allow former felons to vote after release from prison.

Polls show the majority of people statewide support restoring voting rights to people once they’re released from prison, even if they are still serving probation or parole, attorney Whitley Carpenter said.

"The overwhelming support of North Carolinians across the state to re-enfranchise people once they complete their prison sentence tells us the time is now," Carpenter said. "We must take action to address this unjust practice."

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