(WNCT) A North Carolina Court recently ruled that the State cannot prevent citizens who owe fines, fees, and other debts from a felony conviction from voting.
This dramatically expands the number of potential voters who could show up at the polls this election season.
It’s a huge win for the “Unlock Our Vote” campaign, a coalition of voting rights activists fighting for equal access to the ballot.
Felons are allowed to vote in North Carolina, but only after they finish probation.
Attorneys for the campaign sued the state to restore voting rights to citizens who have debt due to a felony conviction.
The Wake County Superior Court ruled in their favor, finding the original statute preventing citizens with leftover court debt “unconstitutional”.
Whitley Carpenter, a staff attorney on the case, says many felons are kept from voting simply because they cannot pay off court debts.
There is a $40 a month probation or supervision fee people have to pay, in addition to other fees that are issued by the courts, the costs and fees in North Carolina’s Court System have increased by 400%, so not having money should never be a barrier to cast a ballot.Whitley Carpenter, Staff Attorney for Forward Justice
In an expert report written by Dr. Traci Burch for the case states that “many of the people currently under supervision for felony convictions in the community in North Carolina would register and vote if they were not currently disenfranchised”.
The report also states that North Carolina’s felony disenfranchisement law prevents a significant number of people who had voted in the past (before their felony convictions) from participating in elections.
According to The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, about 70,000 North Carolinians are kept from voting because they’re on probation or parole, while a larger number—probably more than 100,000—owe outstanding court debt.
As Election Day approaches, North Carolina appears to be a toss-up for November.
While there’s no predicting what this ruling could mean for November, Carpenter says opening up the vote to more citizens can accurately represent the voice of the people.
North Carolina is a toss-up state, so these votes could have an impact on who the state votes for.
The campaign says while this is a step in the right direction, there’s still a lot of work to be accomplished.
There are two claims from the last case that have yet to be decided on.