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Historical Lawsuit to End Felony Disenfranchisement of North Carolinians on Community Supervision

August 10, 2021

Trial Begins Monday in Civil Rights Groups’ Historic Lawsuit to Restore Voting Rights to Over 50,000 people and End Felony Disenfranchisement of North Carolinians on Community Supervision

RALEIGH, NC — On Monday in Wake County Superior Court, lawyers representing the North Carolina NAACP, Community Success Initiative, Justice Served NC, and Wash Away Unemployment will present their case at trial, as they seek to restore the voting rights of over 50,000 North Carolinians living in communities across the state. If successful, this would result in the largest expansion of voting rights in the state since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In September 2020, a three-judge panel granted partial judgment for Plaintiffs, immediately restoring voting rights for thousands of people on community supervision as a result of unpaid financial obligations ahead of the November 2020 Elections. The court ruled that North Carolina’s felony disenfranchisement law violated two separate provisions of the state’s Constitution—the Equal Protection Clause and the Ban on Property Qualifications—by conditioning the right to vote on a person’s ability to pay fines, fees, and other debts associated with a previous felony conviction. Plaintiffs, their lawyers, and community members hope to expand that victory at trial to re-enfranchise even more North Carolinians living in our communities.

“I’m excited about the trial,” said Diana Powell, Executive Director of Justice Served, a Plaintiff in the lawsuit, “I believe it’s a great opportunity to get the truth out. I stand on this being a movement and not just a moment, because this is an ongoing fight in our work for fairness in our democracy.”

Advocates argue that in addition to being a voting rights issue, the state’s current disenfranchisement law is also a racial and social justice issue. A report by expert witness Frank Baumgartner, Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that although Black people constitute 21% of the voting-age population in North Carolina, they represent 42% of the people disenfranchised due to probation, parole, or post-release supervision from a felony conviction. In 44 counties, today, the disenfranchisement rate for Black people is more than three times the rate of the white population.

“It is time for a new day in North Carolina, where we say no more to this racist disenfranchisement policy that is not only unconstitutional in its origins and impact, but that dishonors our democratic commitment to ensuring that North Carolina elections reflect the will of the people,” said Rev. Dr. Spearman, President of the NC NAACP State Conference. “When our nation's returning citizens have an opportunity for redemption, employment, and re-enfranchisement, we all win. Returning citizens will work to make our communities safer, our economy stronger, and redeem our democracy and hence we will all live better lives. We have a new world to shape. It is time to unlock our vote."

Currently, in the state of North Carolina, people who have been convicted of a felony lose their right to vote not only during any period of incarceration, but also throughout the duration of their probation and post-release supervision periods—stripping away their right to fully participate in our democracy, including their ability to have a voice in policy decisions that affect their daily lives. In order for our democracy to be truly representative, advocates argue, we must rectify a flaw that improperly and discriminatorily disenfranchised citizens for over a century, and there must be an expansion of the electorate.

Daryl Atkinson, Co-director of Forward Justice, and an attorney on the case says, “The Preamble to the North Carolina Constitution begins with ‘We the people of the State of North Carolina’. Having the right to vote, a civic voice, is essential to being part of the proverbial ‘we’ in our society. On August 16, 2021 counsel for Plaintiffs will argue that the voices of people with felony convictions living in our communities are part of that ‘we’ and deserve to be heard at the ballot box. To continue to deny them a civic voice amounts to taxation without representation.”

What: Community Success Initiative V. Moore court case. Copies of previous case filings can be accessed here.

Who: Community Success Initiative, Justice Served NC, Wash Away Unemployment, and the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP- represented by a collaborative legal team of Forward Justice, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, and Protect Democracy

When: Trial begins Mon., August 16th, 2021 @ 10:00am EST and continues through Fri., August 20th

Where: Wake County Courthouse (316 Fayetteville Street- Raleigh, NC) Courtroom 3B

COVID-19 Protocols: Counsel, parties, and witnesses must confirm the current safety protocols of the court by visiting Wake County Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates | North Carolina Judicial Branch (nccourts.gov). The latest information should be posted in the dark banner near the top of the page. As the guidance regarding COVID-19 changes, the courts’ protocols may be updated, so you are encouraged to visit this site before you leave for the courthouse on Monday morning.

Additional information: This trial comes during what advocates are labeling a ‘Summer of Democracy’. In an attempt to fight back against restrictive voting measures sweeping the country, plaintiffs in the case have taken part in demonstrations across North Carolina and in Washington DC, in collaboration with partners like Repairers of the Breach, The Poor People’s Campaign, and Black Voters Matter. The North Carolina NAACP’s lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, for its photo voter ID requirement, will be heard by the state Supreme Court on August 31st, 2021. Learn more about the Unlock Our Vote Campaign here.

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