State elections board responds to court ruling on felon voting

  • The N.C. State Board of Elections is updating voter registration forms to comply with the state Supreme Court's ruling against felon voting.
  • Felons who were allowed to register and vote in the November 2022 general election will have their voter registration canceled.
  • In a 5-2 ruling, the state's highest court ruled that a 1973 state law setting rules for felons to regain voting rights is constitutional.

On the same day that the N.C. Supreme Court struck down felon voting in North Carolina, the State Board of Elections announced steps to comply with the court’s ruling.

“The State Board of Elections has updated the state’s voter registration applications to comply with Friday’s N.C. Supreme Court ruling regarding the voting rights of individuals convicted of felonies,” according to a board news release. “The court ruled that North Carolinians convicted of felonies must complete their sentences—including any period of probation, post-release supervision, or parole—before they regain their right to vote.”

Lower court rulings had allowed felons who had completed active prison time to register and vote in November’s general election. Those felons will not be able to vote in future elections.

“As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, the State Board will receive lists of people currently serving felony sentences from the N.C. Department of Adult Correction and U.S. Department of Justice and forward them to the county boards of elections to cancel the registrations of anyone who is now ineligible,” according to the elections board’s news release.

Advocates of felon voting had argued that a win in their lawsuit would affect 56,000 potential voters.

The state elections board urged county boards of elections and groups conducting voter registration drives to print and use updated forms “immediately to ensure that no ineligible individual registers to vote.” The board is working with its printing vendor to update printed copies of those forms.

“The State Board is committed to ensuring that all laws and court orders are followed and to provide copies of the new forms as quickly as possible to everyone who needs them,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections.“In the meantime, copies of the new voter registration applications are available on the State Board’s website for printing.”

Friday’s state Supreme Court decision overruled a trial court decision that threw out North Carolina’s 1973 law restoring felons’ voting rights. That law says felons regain voting rights when they complete their full sentences.

The N.C. Constitution says felons cannot vote until their rights have been restored by law. In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court determined in the case Community Success Initiative v. Moore that trial judges had made a mistake in throwing out the 50-year-old law.

“Our state constitution ties voting rights to the obligation that all citizens have to refrain from criminal misconduct,” wrote Justice Trey Allen for the majority. “Specifically, it denies individuals with felony convictions the right to vote unless their citizenship rights are restored ‘in the manner prescribed by law.’ No party to this litigation disputes the validity of Article VI, Section 2(3) of the North Carolina Constitution.”

“This case is therefore not about whether disenfranchisement should be a consequence
of a felony conviction,” Allen added. “The state constitution says that it must be, and we are bound by that mandate.”

Plaintiffs instead challenged laws approved in the 1970s to set the rules for felons to regain voting rights. “The evidence does not prove that legislators intended their reforms … in the early 1970s to disadvantage African Americans, nor does it substantiate plaintiffs’ other constitutional claims,” Allen wrote. “It is not unconstitutional to insist that felons pay their debt to society as a condition of participating in the electoral process. We therefore reverse the trial court’s final order and judgment.”

“The General Assembly did not engage in racial discrimination or otherwise violate the North Carolina Constitution by requiring individuals with felony convictions to complete their sentences — including probation, parole, or post-release supervision — before they regain the right to vote,” Allen added.