Upon release from prison, those convicted of a crime are expected to return to society and behave as law-abiding citizens.
So why are Republicans in North Carolina considering appealing a court ruling that restores voting rights after convicts have served their sentences?
Republican state lawmakers claim to defend a 1973 state law that states that voting rights can only be restored after probation or parole is over. Senator Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said: âThis law, passed by a Democratic-led legislature 50 years ago, allows criminals to reclaim their voting rights. If a judge prefers a different route to recover these rights, then he or she should come to the General Assembly and suggest that route. Judges are not supposed to be oligarchs who issue decrees they think are best.
But the 1973 law, sponsored by Mickey Michaux, a black lawmaker from Durham, was not a restriction but in fact an extension of voting rights. He eliminated the requirement that those convicted of a felony needed a court order for their right to vote to be restored. This expansion is expected to continue in North Carolina.
The three-judge panel that rendered the 2-1 decision did not issue a decree. Judges determined constitutional rights. The court made a similar ruling last year when it ruled that denial of the right to vote due to non-payment of court fees or fines was in fact a voting tax.
It is not an alien notion that those released from prison and reintegrated into society should have their right to vote reinstated while on probation or parole. Twenty-one other states allow it. Maine, Vermont and the District of Columbia even allow prisoners to vote.
It’s not hard to see why some Republican lawmakers object to those on parole or probation voting. The change will disproportionately allow more black people to vote, and they tend to vote Democrats. In North Carolina, blacks make up about 20% of the state’s population, but they make up about 40% of those on parole or probation.
Florida Republicans have made their removal goal clear. Voters passed a statewide referendum in 2018 allowing more than a million felony convicts to vote, but the Republican-controlled legislature passed a law stating that restored right could not go only to those who have paid all fines, fees, court costs and restitution. . More than 700,000 Floridians convicted of felony have unpaid convictions-related debts that many of them cannot pay. A federal judge called the law a âpaid voting systemâ.
Taking a hard line against the right to vote of those on probation or parole is not about protecting electoral integrity. It is about suppressing the vote of a minority who, due to prejudice, poverty, and lack of adequate legal representation, are much more likely than whites to serve time for a crime and be released on bail. surveillance. According to The Sentencing Project, one in 16 African-Americans lost their right to vote due to a felony conviction, compared to one in 59 non-black voters.
People on parole or probation are not a small group in North Carolina. The decision will allow more than 55,000 people to register and vote. This number will increase as thousands of inmates are released each year.
The decision should be celebrated by all who care about democracy. Depriving people of the right to vote dates back to the days of Jim Crow, when felony convictions were used to reduce the number of eligible black voters.
Being on probation or on parole is an opportunity to resume your role in society, to live with your family, to go to church, to work and to pay taxes. Those who lose this opportunity by committing new crimes return to detention and exile from the voting booth. But those who seize this opportunity should be welcomed back as citizens and voters.
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