A lawsuit to restore the franchise to North Carolinians convicted of felony suffered a setback on September 3 when the state appeals court stayed a lower court ruling in August that would have allowed those on probation or parole to register as the case progressed. The lower court’s decision is said to have immediately affected around 56,000 people who lost the right to vote due to the state’s denial of the right to vote law.
The plaintiffs then turned to the State Supreme Court, which on September 10 rejected their motion to allow probationers and parolees to continue to register while the case progresses through the court system. But it allowed those who registered between August 23 and September 3 to stay on the lists.
Forward Justice – a Durham-based legal services advocacy group that serves as co-counsel in the case, which was filed by the Community Success Initiative, the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, Justice Served NC and Wash Away Unemployment as well as individual applicants – said in a press release that he was disappointed that the Supreme Court had not fully reinstated the order for full restoration of rights. But it is fortunate that those who have already registered can stay.
“We are now one step closer to our goal, and even in the face of this temporary delay in full justice, we rejoice,” the group said. “We remain committed to the vision of an egalitarian democracy, free from laws illegally designed to deprive blacks of their civil rights in this state.”
Filed in November 2019, Community Success Initiative c. Moore argues that North Carolina’s criminal disqualification laws – originally written in the late 1800s as white supremacist lawmakers sought to regain political power lost during Reconstruction – are inherently racist.
“Our argument has always been that the denial of the right to vote law dates back to that period of the 1870s, when denial of the right to vote in North Carolina was first imposed on all persons convicted of felony and when, for the first time, North Carolina extended the denial of the right to vote to those who committed a felony. convictions beyond the date of their incarceration, “said Elisabeth Theodore, lawyer at the law firm Arnold & Porter based in Washington, DC, another co-counsel in the matter.
Although North Carolina changed its denial of the right to vote law in the early 1970s, it continued to ban people from voting until they had completed probation, parole, or post-release surveillance – what Theodore calls the “racist holy” of the law. According to 2018 data cited in the lawsuit, blacks made up 20% of the voting age population in North Carolina, but 40% of those who lost their right to vote after serving time in the state.
Virginie leads the way
Had the lower court ruling been upheld, North Carolina would have been the first southern state to automatically restore people to the right to vote after serving their prison or jail time. But despite North Carolina’s appeal rulings, the broader movement to re-liberate those convicted of felony is making headway in the region, which has some of the country’s most draconian restrictions.
Movement won a key victory in Virginia in 2013, as the then governor. Robert McDonnell, a Republican, announced a plan to restore the voting rights of thousands of residents convicted of non-violent crimes. His successor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, then reinstated the voting rights of about 173,000 people convicted of felony after serving their sentences, according to the Washington Post reported. Current Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has continued these efforts; in March of this year, he restored the right to vote to some 69,000 people convicted of felony after completing their prison terms, according to the post.
The Virginia Constitution currently denies the right to vote to all those convicted of crimes unless their rights are restored by the governor. But this year, the Virginia General Assembly gave its preliminary approval to a 2022 constitutional amendment proposal this would automatically restore people’s right to vote after release from prison, even if they are still on probation or on parole. Lawmakers are due to re-pass the amendment next year, and it needs the approval of a simple majority voters in Virginia to become law.
Along with Virginia, Kentucky is one of the few states whose constitutions permanently deprive those convicted of crimes of the right to vote but allow governors to restore these rights individually. After his election in December 2019, Governor Andy Beshear (D) issued a decree which restored the right to vote for more than 140,000 convicted felons who had completed their probation and parole.
“My faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches forgiveness and that is why I am restoring the right to vote to… Kentuckians who have done wrong in the past, but are doing it now,” Beshear said. noted at the time. “I want to raise all of our families and I believe we have a moral responsibility to protect and expand the right to vote.”
Thanks to Beshear’s initiative, more than 170,000 Kentuckians regained the right to vote earlier this year, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. Corn recent data from The Sentencing Project shows that the state still has one of the highest deprivation rates in the country, as well as one of the highest deprivation rates of African Americans in particular.
In January of this year, a bipartite group Kentucky lawmakers presented a bill proposing a constitutional amendment to automatically restore the right to vote for those convicted of felony after the completion of prison, parole and probation, but it died in commission.
In Louisiana, the legislator adopted in 2019 a law restoring the right to vote of 36,000 people on probation or on parole who had not been incarcerated in the previous five years. Earlier this year he passed another law allowing certain people convicted of crimes to sit on juries – a measure that had the support of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.
Meet the hostility of the GOP
Ahead of the 2020 presidential election, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office posted a review on its website stating that those convicted of crimes who have served their sentence but have not yet paid unpaid fees, other than fines related to their conviction, can register to vote. In January, a group of Democrats in the Georgia House of Representatives filed an invoice add an amendment to the state constitution that would make it easier for incarcerated people to vote, but the legislation has not moved forward.
In 2016, the Alabama legislature relaxed the process of restoring voting rights for people who have served sentences for crimes other than what the state considered to be crimes of “moral turpitude.” In response to complaints that this category was vague, he adopted the law on moral turpitude the following year defining what exactly these crimes are. There are now about a dozen crimes in the state that require the restoration of the franchise through pardons, including murder, rape and child pornography, while betrayal and impeachment result in permanent loss. the right to vote, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.
However, there have been issues with publicizing Alabama’s new law: 2020 survey by AL.com revealed a lack of awareness of the law by both the public and county officials, who had therefore wrongly banned some eligible people from voting.
In Mississippi, there are currently 22 crimes – ranging from arson and armed robbery to writing a bad check and shoplifting – that prevent people from voting unless they are. obtain the governor’s pardon or the approval of the legislature. Earlier this year, the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign, the Mississippi Prison Reform Coalition and the People’s Advocacy Institute announced that they plan to file documents for a voting initiative automatically restore the right to vote of convicted persons once they have served their sentence.
But the Florida experience shows how such ballot initiatives can be undermined by a hostile state government. In 2018, state voters approved Amendment 4, which aimed to restore voting rights to around 1.4 million Floridians convicted of felony after completing their probation or parole. But the amendment sparked animosity from Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies in the state legislature, who have argued controversially that it needs implementing legislation before it can come into force. .
They drafted and passed a bill requiring those convicted of felony to fulfill “all the conditions” of their sentence – including full payment of restitution, fines, fees or all associated costs. The measure was challenged for effectively imposing unconstitutional voting taxes, but last year the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to let it sit. A study by a professor of political science at the University of Florida find that around four out of five people qualified under Amendment 4 owed court-imposed costs, fines or compensation.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group that led the fight for Amendment 4, valued As last year’s election approached, more than 67,000 people registered to vote as a result of the new policy. Meanwhile, the group continues to raise funds to help returning citizens pay off their debts and reports that he is currently $ 2.3 million away from his goal of $ 10 million.