Throughout the U.S. there is confusion about the laws and the right to vote for those convicted of a felony. Felon disenfranchisement varies widely. Some states never revoke the right to vote, while some restore rights immediately after release from prison. Others take away the right to vote until all terms of the sentence are served including probation and parole (and in some cases restitution paid). In some states, voting rights are revoked indefinitely or require a governor's pardon or an additional waiting period.
No person adjudged guilty of a felony against this State or the United States, or adjudged guilty of a felony in another state that also would be a felony if it had been committed in this State, shall be permitted to vote unless that person shall be first restored to the rights of citizenship in the manner prescribed by law.
So what does this mean? A person convicted of a felony is no longer a citizen under the law. So how is citizenship restored? Being released from prison? Completing probation or parole? Paying restitution? What if the person never went to prison?
In North Carolina, when a felony sentence is complete, rights are automatically restored under G.S. 13-1, then the citizen may register to vote and then vote. However, some cases are not straight forward and there may still be confusion about the terms of sentence completion.
This type of confusion was evidenced as charges were brought against twelve people in Alamanace County, later called the Alamance 12, for illegal voting. Nine of the twelve charged were people of color, which caused concern in a state with a history of suppressing the African-American vote. As reported in the News and Observer, John F. Carella, a lawyer representing five of the people charged, wrote in a court document that the law violates both the state constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants equal protection under the law to all citizens. He stated that the law, passed in the state in 1901, prevents people with criminal convictions from voting and was aimed at keeping African-Americans from voting. Furthermore:
This law continues to have the intended disparate impact on African American voters, which constitute the majority of those who could be convicted under such a law, a majority of those referred by the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement for prosecution, and the vast majority of those facing criminal charges in Alamance County.
Recently, other issues of African-American voter suppression have been raised in NC, including gerrymandering and a proposed constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, both of which have faced legal challenges. With cases such as the Alamance 12, activists are concerned that fear of prosecution may suppress African American turnout in the midterm elections.
Former felons who want more information about their rights and the process of being reinstated as a NC voter may contact Democracy North Carolina for more information.