As of July 27, a 1973 N.C. law that laid out a path for felons to regain their voting rights is officially no longer in effect. This change means that around 56,000 felons in the state will now be able to register to vote and could be eligible to participate in the November 2022 midterms.
The change applies to felons who have completed active prison time but remain on parole, probation, or post-release supervision.
Republican legislative leaders had argued that the N.C. Constitution itself, not the 1973 law, was ultimately the reason there was not an automatic return of voting rights for released felons.
The state Court of Appeals disagreed, however, and ruled on March 28 that felons should be granted the right to vote after they’ve completed their active prison sentences.
The decision was partially stayed on April 26, allowing post-release felons to vote in November but blocking their participation in the May 17 primary and July 26 elections.
With those elections now over, nothing is standing in the way of those felons — up to 56,000 people — registering to vote. According to the N.C. State Board of Elections, those registering must also have resided in North Carolina for at least 30 days prior to the election, be a U.S. citizen, and be at least 18 years old by the next general election.
The N.C. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. Legislative leaders argue that the state Constitution lays out the legislature’s authority to create a pathway to voting for felons, as was done in the 1973 law.
“Plaintiffs’ claims suffer from a fundamental defect: the statute they challenge, N.C.G.S. § 13-1, does not disenfranchise anyone,” wrote attorney Nicole Moss, who represents legislative leaders. “Rather, consistent with the North Carolina Constitution, Section 13-1 provides convicted felons a pathway for re-enfranchisement. It is the North Carolina Constitution, not Section 13-1, that disenfranchises convicted felons. And the Constitution provides that convicted felons are disenfranchised unless and until they are ‘restored to the rights of citizenship in the manner prescribed by law.’”