The largest expansion of voting rights in North Carolina since the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 is happening today.
Effective immediately, the state can no longer prevent people convicted of a state or federal felony, and who are still under supervision but are not in prison, from voting. That is more than 55,000 people.
In a last-minute call this morning, Judge Lisa Bell told the parties to the CSI v. Moore lawsuit that she and Judge Keith Gregory decided to extend their preliminary injunction from last year to immediately apply to everyone on “community supervision,” rather than just those serving sentences due to financial obligations.
Judge John Dunlow, the final member of the three-judge panel, opposed the decision.
Bell said that a written order could be expected as soon as Friday, though it may take longer.
Bell did not elaborate on the logic for extending last year’s preliminary injunction or why she and Gregory were siding with the plaintiffs in the case. The call was so last-minute that there was not a court reporter and therefore the call is not considered a court record, Bell said. It was simply to announce the decision.
“The court as of today is granting plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction that prohibits the state defendants from refusing to register to vote any person on community supervision, whether a state felony conviction or a federal conviction,” Bell said.
This group of North Carolinians has not been able to cast a ballot since the state first decided to strip the right to vote from people convicted of felonies back in 1876.
The plaintiffs, who include groups that help people reenter society after incarceration, the state chapter of the NAACP and people convicted of felonies, first filed their lawsuit in November 2019.
In September 2020, the judges issued a preliminary injunction and a motion for summary judgment that allowed about 5,000 people who were only still on probation or supervision because they owed fines or fees to vote in the 2020 general elections.
The trial for the case was not heard until last week. Bell’s announcement today is an extension of the preliminary injunction from last year, not the decision from the full trial, which is expected at the very earliest in mid-September.
This decision is only temporary until the judges make a full ruling, though it is a strong indication that the judges will again side with the plaintiffs.