Upon their release from prison, people convicted of a felony are expected to rejoin society and conduct themselves as law-abiding citizens.

So why are North Carolina Republicans planning to appeal a court ruling that restores the right to vote once the convicted serve their time?

Republican state lawmakers claim they’re defending a 1973 state law that says voting rights can be restored only after probation or parole is completed. Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said, “This law, passed by a Democrat-led legislature 50 years ago, provides a path for felons to regain voting rights. If a judge prefers a different path to regaining those rights, then he or she should run for the General Assembly and propose that path. Judges aren’t supposed to be oligarchs who issue whatever decrees they think best.”

But the 1973 law, sponsored by Mickey Michaux, a Black legislator from Durham, was not a restriction but actually an expansion of voting rights. It eliminated a requirement that those with felony convictions needed a court order to have their right to vote restored. That expansion should continue in North Carolina.

The three-judge panel that reached the 2-1 ruling did not issue a decree. The judges determined constitutional rights. The court made a similar ruling last year when it said denying the right to vote because of a failure to pay court fees or fines was effectively a poll tax.

It’s hardly a foreign notion that people released from prison and returned to society should have their right to vote restored while they are on probation or parole. Twenty-one other states allow it. Maine, Vermont and the District of Columbia even allow prisoners to vote.


It’s not hard to see why some Republican lawmakers oppose letting people on parole or probation vote. The change will disproportionately allow more Black people to vote, and they tend to vote for Democrats. In North Carolina, Black people represent about 20 percent of the state’s population, but they are about 40 percent of those on parole or probation.

Florida Republicans have made their suppression objective plain. Voters passed a statewide referendum in 2018 allowing more than 1 million people with felony convictions to vote, but the Republican-controlled legislature passed a law stipulating that the restored right could go only to those who have paid all fines, fees, court costs and restitution. More than 700,000 Floridians with felony convictions have outstanding conviction-related debts that many of them cannot pay. A federal judge blasted the law as a “pay-to-vote system.”

Taking a hard line against the voting rights of people on probation or parole isn’t about protecting election integrity. It’s about suppressing the vote of a minority who, because of bias, poverty and lack of adequate legal representation, are much more likely than whites to serve time for a crime and be released under supervision. According to The Sentencing Project, one of every 16 African Americans has lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction, compared to one of every 59 non-Black voters.

People on parole or probation are not a small group in North Carolina. The ruling will allow more than 55,000 people to register and vote. That number will grow as thousands of inmates are released from custody annually.

The ruling should be celebrated by anyone who cares about democracy. Stripping people of the right to vote goes back to the Jim Crow era, when felony convictions were used to reduce the number of eligible Black voters.

Being on probation or parole is an opportunity to resume one’s role in society, to live with your family, attend your church, work and pay taxes. Those who lose that opportunity by committing new crimes return to custody and exile from the voting booth. But those who embrace that opportunity should be welcomed back as citizens and voters.

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