Court filing shows N.C. elections board expects ‘status quo’ of felon voting in November

Carolina Journal photo by Mitch Kokai

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  • The N.C. State Board of Elections is proceeding with plans for felons who have completed active prison time to be able to vote in the November elections.
  • Lawyers for the elections board urge the N.C. Supreme Court to reject a request to speed up a felon voting lawsuit's timeline. The board argues an expedited timeline could alter the "status quo."

The N.C. State Board of Elections is proceeding with the “status quo” of allowing felons with no active prison time to vote in November’s elections. Lawyers working for the state board shared that fact in a filing Friday with the N.C. Supreme Court.

The state elections board is opposing a request to speed up the timeline in a felon voting lawsuit. Plaintiffs in the case, Community Success Initiative v. Moore, would like the state Supreme Court to hear oral arguments as early as August.

As many as 56,000 felons could be added to the state’s voting rolls. The court’s final decision would apply to felons on probation, parole, or post-release supervision.

“While State Board Defendants recognize that it is in the public interest for the issues in this case to be finally resolved as expeditiously as practicable, they oppose Plaintiffs’ motion to the extent it seeks a ruling from this Court prior to the 8 November 2022 general election, because of the administrative uncertainty and public confusion that could result from additional changes in voter eligibility in the run-up to the election,” wrote Terence Steed, special deputy attorney general with the N.C. Justice Department. Steed helps represent the State Board of Elections.

“Effective July 27, 2022, individuals on probation, parole, and post-release supervision for felony convictions may, if otherwise qualified, register and vote in the 8 November 2022 general election and all subsequent elections unless and until this Court alters the status quo,” Steed added.

The filing reminded Supreme Court justices that an earlier state Appeals Court ruling blocked felon voting for the May 17 primary and July 26 elections. “It further ordered, however, that after the 26 July 2022 election, the State Board of Elections was ‘to take actions to implement the “Final Judgment and Order” for subsequent elections,’ which includes the general election occurring on 8 November 2022,” Steed wrote.

Plaintiffs’ pursuit of an expedited court schedule could affect the status quo.

“To the extent Plaintiffs’ motion seeks a ruling from this Court prior to the 8 November 2022 general election, good cause does not exist to grant the motion,” Steed wrote. “The status quo established by the Court of Appeals’ 26 April 2022 order already allows the affected North Carolinians to vote in the 8 November 2022 general election. That being the case, expedited consideration, presumably to facilitate a decision prior to that election and, more specifically, to facilitate a decision affirming the status quo, is not necessary.”

The State Board of Elections urges Supreme Court justices to deny the motion.

“While denying the motion presents no prejudice to any parties, granting the request for expedited consideration which results in a ruling prior to the general election could introduce significant voter confusion and administrative difficulties,” Steed wrote. “This is especially true if the Court were to decide the superior court was incorrect in determining the affected persons should be allowed to vote.”

“At the earliest and under the most generous estimate, the expedited schedule proposed by Plaintiffs would allow for a decision in late August or early September,” he added. “Even if the Court were to also expedite issuance of the mandate, that would reverse the status quo, about which affected voters have been on notice since 26 April 2022, and it would do so on the eve of voting for the 8 November 2022 general election.”

A Supreme Court ruling against felon voting would affect the elections board’s work this summer.

“[M]yriad preparations are needed for an election, many of which will have already taken place in anticipation of the 8 November 2022 general election by late August, including the printing of absentee ballot envelopes,” Steed wrote. “Those also include, of course, preparations to ensure the people affected by the superior court’s final order are given the opportunity to vote.”

“More significantly, impacted people have been on notice that they will be eligible to vote, and have thus expected to have the opportunity to vote, in the general election since the Court of Appeals issued its 26 April 2022 order,” Steed added. “Opening the door to a potential reversal of the status quo so close to the election would create a significant risk of confusion for impacted people about their eligibility to vote in the 8 November 2022 election.”

Legislative leaders are also opposing an expedited timeline in the felon voting case. In a separate filing Friday, lawyers for top legislators asked for extra time to prepare for the case. Their request would push oral arguments back to at least October.