Judges open NC voting to some felons on probation

A lawsuit, filed by the NAACP and others, challenges the state's felon voting laws as unconstitutional.

Posted Updated
Election Day, polling places
Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — 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, a divided three-judge panel ruled Friday.

The decision undoes, at least temporarily, part of North Carolina election law. It may be appealed.

The North Carolina NAACP and the Community Success Initiative sued last fall over the law, seeking broader relief than the court granted late Friday. In North Carolina, felon voting rights are restored automatically, but only after people complete probation and pay whatever money they owe.

The groups in the suit made a number of constitutional arguments against the process, and two of the three judges handling the case agreed Friday with one of those arguments: That requiring people to pay fees first violates a constitutional prohibition against a "property qualification" affecting the right to vote.

"The requirement ... does exactly that," the judges wrote. "The ability for a person convicted of a felony to vote is conditioned on whether that person possesses, at minimum, a monetary amount equal to any fees, fines and debts assessed."

The change laid out by Friday's court orders affects only people whose voting rights haven't been restored because they owe money, not those on probation for other reasons.

It's not clear how many people that would be.

The orders were signed by Superior Court judges Lisa Bell and Keith Gregory. Superior Court Judge John Dunlow filed a dissent, saying he would have denied the injunction.

Daryl Atkinson, one of the attorney sin the case, called the decision "a historic step in further expanding the ‘we’ in ‘we the people.'"

"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," he said in a statement.

State Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley called the decision "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.”

“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," he said in a statement.

The state's first absentee ballots were mailed out Friday. The deadline to register to vote in this election is October 9.


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