Voting Rights and Mass Incarceration

With SCSJ attorneys in federal court hearings this week fighting against North Carolina’s voter suppression laws and the second Clean Slate Clinic in Durham quickly approaching, the disenfranchisement of the justice-involved population is a central topic for SCSJ this week.

Voting Rights and Mass Incarceration at the National Level

According to The Sentencing Project, there are 5.85 million voters nationwide that are currently banned from the polls. North Carolina is one of nineteen states that does not allow voting restoration until an individual with a felony conviction has completed not only their prison sentence but also parole and probation. On the spectrum of disenfranchisement laws, North Carolina is one step below the most extreme policies of never restoring voting rights to previously convicted citizens or having a two-to-five year post-sentence waiting period. At the other end of the spectrum, there are only two states – Vermont and Maine – that never restrict an individual’s right to vote even while incarcerated.

Voting Rights and Mass Incarceration in North Carolina

This discussion of voting restoration is important as it pertains to formerly incarcerated people because loss of voting rights qualifies as a collateral consequence of incarceration. Collateral consequences prevent previously convicted people from optimally contributing to and coalescing with society.

Our process of voting restoration—how we determine who has the right to vote, how difficult we make the process of restoration, how we inform citizens about their rights, etc.—reflects the extent to which we value the voices, citizenship, and humanity of previously convicted individuals.

The Southern Coalition of Social Justice believes that once a sentence is served—be it incarceration, probation, parole, etc.— an individual’s full rights must be restored immediately and that their criminal record should not be held against them. The work we do through our Clean Slate program and participating in the fight against voter inequality demonstrates our commitment to eliminate policy and practice of disenfranchising this marginalized population. (Click here to learn more about the rights of justice-involved individuals to vote in North Carolina.)
So while our Voting Rights attorneys fight on for the rights of every eligible North Carolinian to vote, our Criminal Justice Reform team is gearing up for a Clean Slate clinic that will help ensure that the list of “every eligible voter” includes our brothers and sisters with involvement in the criminal justice system.
Post by Alexandra McKnight, SCSJ Voting Rights Organizing Intern