WASHINGTON, D.C. — The North Carolina Supreme Court has rolled back a recent legal victory enfranchising individuals with past felony convictions, upholding a pause of a lower court’s ruling while the case is on appeal. Individuals in the state who are on probation, parole or a suspended sentence may no longer register to vote while the case moves through the appeals process, though those who registered to vote before the lower court’s ruling was paused are still considered registered voters.
This order comes after a three-judge panel in a North Carolina trial court granted a preliminary injunction in late August stating that all individuals on probation, parole or a suspended sentence due to a prior felony conviction can immediately register to vote in North Carolina. The state’s Republican-controlled Legislature immediately appealed the decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which paused the preliminary injunction while the case is on appeal. When the plaintiffs petitioned the state Supreme Court, it affirmed the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ ruling, reinstating the previous status quo where individuals “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” can register to vote, but others who remain on probation, parole or a suspended sentence not due to monetary obligations are no longer eligible to register. The North Carolina Supreme Court did, however, preserve a small victory in its order: Any person who registered to vote between Aug. 23 (the day the trial court issued the amended preliminary injunction) and Sept. 3 (when the North Carolina Court of Appeals paused the injunction) remains “legally registered” to vote and will remain so unless further court action determines otherwise.