Lawsuit filed by the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute and Action NC challenging a North Carolina law that imposes criminal penalties on residents who vote while on parole, probation or post-release supervision for a felony conviction — even if those individuals mistakenly believe or were told that they are eligible to vote. Under North Carolina’s felony disenfranchisement scheme, individuals with prior felony convictions can only be re-enfranchised upon the completion of their entire sentence following incarceration, including parole, probation, post-release supervision and payment of all legal fees and fines. The plaintiffs argue that the challenged law — which was originally enacted in 1877 and subsequently amended in 1899 — was passed with the specific intent to “suppress the Black vote and reinstate white control throughout the state.” The plaintiffs allege that the law imposes criminal liability even if an individual “was not aware that he was ineligible to vote due to his criminal conviction,” meaning that those with prior felony convictions who inadvertently or unknowingly vote in contravention of the law are still subject to criminal penalties. Additionally, the complaint underscores that “[d]espite the law’s racist roots, the General Assembly has never amended the key features of the” law — which disproportionately impact Black individuals — since 1899.
The plaintiffs add that North Carolina lacks adequate “procedures for notifying individuals with felony convictions that they are ineligible to vote,” thus causing confusion about eligibility status and increasing the likelihood of mistakenly voting in violation of the law. Furthermore, the plaintiffs assert that the vagueness of the law — “coupled with the recent prosecutions under this law” — have caused “eligible individuals with criminal convictions to refrain from voting, for fear of unintentionally violating the law and triggering criminal charges.” The plaintiffs ask the court to block the law for being unconstitutionally vague and intentionally discriminatory towards Black North Carolinians in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14 Amendment. On Jan. 15, 2021, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. Litigation is ongoing.