Tens Of Thousands Of North Carolina Felons Can Register To Vote In 2022 Midterms
brown paper insert in vote box, democracy concept, retro tone
Credit: Karanik Yimpat / EyeEm via Getty Images.

A North Carolina election board announced Wednesday that tens of thousands of non-incarcerated felons in the state would be allowed to register to vote in November.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections said that felons not currently in prison would be able to participate in the upcoming general election. A recent ruling in a discrimination lawsuit resulted in the possibility of up to 56,000 new voters, including some felons who are completing their sentences outside of incarceration.   

“[For] the time being, any person serving a felony sentence outside of prison or jail is eligible to register to vote and vote. Those in jail or prison for a felony conviction are not allowed to register or vote. If a person is in jail awaiting trial for a felony but has not yet been convicted, they retain their voting rights,” the election board announced

The announcement came after a North Carolina superior court ruled in March that a state law banning felons on probation, parole, or post-release supervision from voting violated the state constitution. The decision, which has been appealed, is still in effect. 

The court had ruled 2-1 that the 1973 law was discriminatory against African Americans. The dissent was by Republican Judge John Dunlow, while Judge Keith Gregory, a Democrat, and non-partisan Judge Lisa Bell argued the policy violated equal protection. Bell and Gregory claimed that not allowing certain felons to vote could impact “close elections.” 

“Elections do not ascertain the will of the people when the denial of the franchise to such a large number of people has the clear potential to affect the outcome of numerous close elections,” they wrote. 

Bell and Gregory suggested the law was rooted in and motivated by “racism,” while Dunlow said it was justifiable for the state to enforce. 

“Establishing a restoration process that requires convicted felons to complete their terms of imprisonment, probation, parole, or post-release supervision before regaining their citizenship rights, including the right to vote, is a valid and legitimate governmental interest,” Dunlow wrote in his dissent. 

It has been estimated that about 56,000 felons in North Carolina were not incarcerated in 2021. These individuals are now allowed to vote, but the state Supreme Court is slated to hear the case at some point. 

Key elections in North Carolina this year include the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), which pits Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) against Democrat attorney Cheri Beasley.

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