Law Designed to Reinstate the Right to Vote is Not Being Followed, Exacerbates Racial Disparity in Voting

Written by Grover Wehman, Organizing Intern

In North Carolina, a person convicted of a felony loses her right to vote until she completes all terms of her sentence, including probation or parole. The person regains the right to vote the day she completes her term. This reinstatement of voting rights, however, is not being executed in compliance with North Carolina state law.

A recent survey, conducted by Democracy North Carolina and tabulated by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, indicates that the majority of Parole Officers are not properly informed of, nor executing NC 163-82.20A: “Voter Registration Upon Restoration of Citizenship.”

This law charges the Department of Corrections, Administrative Office of the Courts, and the Board of Elections to inform persons completing sentences for felony convictions that her or his right to vote has been restored, and to provide the person with an opportunity to register to vote.

In January 2010 Democracy North Carolina conducted phone interviews with 84 probation and parole officers in North Carolina. The law states “(a)t a minimum, the program shall include a written notice to the person whose citizenship has been restored, informing that person that the person may now register to vote, with a voter registration form enclosed with the notice.”

However, when asked, only 6 out of 84 Parole Officers report that he or she provides persons leaving the system with a voter registration form.

Non-compliance with this law has racially disparate impacts on voting rights. Currently in North Carolina 73,113 people have been stripped of their right to vote. Despite comprising only 21% of North Carolina’s population, 57% of disenfranchised voters are African American.

If current practices continue, the number of legally or practically disenfranchised African American voters will expand exponentially. As each person completes their sentence, but is not adequately informed of the right to vote, disenfranchised voters remain disenfranchised even after their right to vote has legally been restored. As felony convictions continue, over time the current 42,000 disenfranchised African American North Carolinians could become 84,000 disenfranchised African American North Carolinians. In a state already struggling for racial equity in voting, the impact of noncompliance with the Voter Registration Upon Restoration of Citizenship law is great.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice along with Democracy North Carolina and other Coalition partners are pressuring state lawmakers to expand probation and parole officer compliance with this law and other practices within the criminal justice system that discourages voter participation.

Stay tuned for more information on racial justice and voting rights as we prepare for an upcoming Community Census and Redistricting Institute in late July.