The movement to restore voting rights to former felons launched a new legal challenge.
Lawyers filed legal documents on Friday that asked a North Carolina court to drop charges against five former felons accused of illegally voting in 2016, the Associated Press reported. The judge should dismiss the charges because North Carolina’s law is racist, the attorneys argued.
Under North Carolina law, convicted felons must complete any probation or parole before they can have their voting rights restored. However, in many cases it could take years to complete probation. North Carolina and other states enforce various decades-old laws restricting felons from voting that were intended to disenfranchise Black voters.
“We are asking the court to declare the law unconstitutional based on its racially discriminatory application,” said John Carella, an attorney representing one of the five voters.
Only two states, Maine and Vermont, never ban ex-offenders from voting, even while they’re incarcerated, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 26 states and the District of Columbia voting rights are automatically restores upon release, in some cases after serving a short parole period or paying outstanding fines. Ex-felons indefinitely lose their voting rights or must petition the governor (in a process that can take years) in a dozen states. Typically, Republicans oppose restoring voting rights to ex-offenders because they would most likely vote for Democrats.
Voters in Florida will decide in November whether to amend the state Constitution to automatically restore the voting rights of former felons. Florida is one of the states where ex-offenders must petition a state board to restore their rights. Floridians for Fair Democracy, a voting rights advocacy group, helped to gather the 766,000 certified signatures needed to get the proposed amendment on the ballot.
Meanwhile, in Mississippi voting rights advocates filed a federal lawsuit in September, which argued that permanently banning certain ex-felons from voting is based in White supremacy. A second federal lawsuit came in March that accused the state of unconstitutionally disenfranchising certain ex-felons.