WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, March 28, a North Carolina trial court struck down a state law barring individuals with past felony convictions who are currently on community supervision (probation, post-release supervision or parole) from registering to vote. This decision immediately enfranchises over 56,000 North Carolinians who have completed their incarceration and are currently living in their communities on supervision. The ruling comes after a trial was held last August, during which the trial court issued a preliminary injunction allowing individuals on community supervision to register to vote that was then overturned on appeal.
In its 2-1 decision, the court outlined the long history of racial discrimination against Black voters. The panel highlighted that the state first disenfranchised individuals with prior felony convictions in 1877 during an aggressive coordinated effort to block Black North Carolinians from voting. In the following decades, individuals with prior felony convictions were still denied equal voting rights because “North Carolinians clearly associated the expansion of voting rights for people with felony convictions with the expansion of voting rights for African Americans.” This overlap of voter suppression and discrimination tactics has resulted in stark disparities between Black and white voters in North Carolina in the present day: “In total, 1.24% of the entire African American voting-age population in North Carolina are denied the franchise due to felony probation, parole, or postrelease supervision, whereas only 0.45% of the White voting-age population are denied the franchise.” Because of this, the court concluded that the state’s felony disenfranchisement law has both the intent and effect of discriminating against Black voters in violation of the North Carolina Constitution. Furthermore, the law “interferes with the exercise of the fundamental right of voting and operates to disadvantage a suspect class” without serving any valid state interest. Because of these factors, the panel permanently blocked the state from enforcing the law, thereby allowing individuals currently on community supervision to register to vote.