RALEIGH, NC — The state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in a case that could ultimately decide whether people with felony convictions can vote again in North Carolina.
Ex-felons are only allowed to vote in the state after completing probation and parole and paying court fees. Activists say voting rights should be restored once someone serves time in prison, and that North Carolina’s laws discriminate against black people, who are more likely to be convicted of crimes, and people who don’t have enough money to pay fines.
That argument won out in the run-up to last year’s general election, and people on probation were allowed to vote. The North Carolina Supreme Court is now considering a decision that will determine whether the practice will continue. The results of November’s judicial election have raised the possibility that North Carolina’s law will stand and people on probation will be disenfranchised again.
During oral arguments Thursday, the conservative justices questioned key elements of the activists’ case.
Chief Justice Paul Newby battled with Daryl Atkinson, a co-director and attorney at Forward Justice, over the meaning of “property fees,” rejecting Atkinson’s argument that requiring people to pay fines before voting is similar to a long-standing unconstitutional rule requiring ownership to vote.
Justice Trey Allen, another Republican on the court, noted that the North Carolina Constitution states that anyone convicted of a felony loses their right to vote unless that right is restored in a manner “prohibited by law.” By default in the constitution, “no felon can vote,” Allen said, and there is no law that says they can vote again “simply after being released from prison.”
When can ex felons vote in NC? High Court hears arguments in voting rights case
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