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NC Supreme court hears arguments in felony voting case

The decision could affect tens of thousands of people statewide with felony convictions, and potentially reverse a lower court ruling finding the ban unconstitutional.

The newly seated state Supreme Court heard arguments last week on whether people convicted of felonies should be allowed to vote if they aren’t in prison but still are serving probation or parole or have yet to pay fines. The decision could affect tens of thousands of people statewide with felony convictions. 

It was the first high-profile case since the court flipped to Republican control in January. 

Allowing felony offenders who aren’t behind bars but still under state supervision can register to vote is a recent development. Last year, a majority of trial judges ruled that this practice disproportionately harmed Black offenders and violated the state constitution’s equal protection and free election clauses. The lower court ruling told elections officials they could not deny voter registration to felons on probation or parole. 

The court’s two new Republican justices focused heavily on 2019 litigation that challenged a 1973 state law automatically restored voting rights only after the “unconditional discharge of an inmate, of a probationer, or of a parolee.” They argued the lower court’s decision to strike down this law overstepped the court’s authority. 

At the time of the 2021 trial, over 56,000 people on probation, parole or supervision are estimated to be affected by the law. The ruling gave offenders the option to register and vote in time for November’s election.