A new victory for voting rights in North Carolina has unfolded with a decision by a three-judge panel on a state court that “all individuals on probation, parole or a suspended sentence due to a prior felony conviction can immediately register to vote in North Carolina,” as reported by the voting rights organization Democracy Docket. The formal ruling to this effect was issued on August 27, days after the court announced its decision at a hearing.
The new order broadens the impact of a previous preliminary injunction from the court, which ruled late last year that all those who were “currently precluded from exercising their fundamental right to vote solely as a result of them being subject to an assessment of fees, fines, or other debts arising from a felony conviction” could now register to vote. Presumably, those for whom fees weren’t the main sticking point weren’t immediately helped by the prior directive from the court. These conclusions from the court are in connection to a case brought challenging a law in North Carolina that forbade those subject to probation, parole, or a suspended sentence in connection to felony convictions from registering to vote, and as Democracy Docket explains, there’s an element of discrimination against lower income individuals in this model.
As the organization puts it:
‘Since being released from probation requires the payment of various legal and court fees, re-enfranchisement was often dependent on an individual’s ability to pay these costs until the court’s preliminary injunction prohibited it.’
According to Democracy Docket, over 55,000 people in North Carolina stand to benefit from the new ruling thanks to now being allowed to register to vote. Across the country, Republicans in positions of state-level leadership have repeatedly sought to impose harsh voting restrictions that do not respond to documented, systematic problems of election integrity — since such problems don’t exist in the United States, but these restrictions do make voting more difficult. Although there’s been a renewed push this direction from Republicans in the months following the 2020 presidential election, the trend is not new. Numerous states, although not solely those known as Republican strongholds, have harsh voting restrictions in place that target those convicted of felony offenses. Unsurprisingly, many of these restrictions appear to correspond to places where Republicans have enjoyed considerable control of the direction of the government.