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PNS Daily Newscast - October 19, 2920 


Trailing Biden in Nevada, Trump holds a jam-packed Carson City rally. And with COVID a major election issue, hospitals help patients register to vote.


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Litigation is ongoing on ballot receipt deadlines, witness signatures and drop boxes. And early voting starts in a dozen states this week.

More Reform Urged after NC Ruling on Voting Rights for Some on Probation, Parole

Of all the potential North Carolina voters who were disenfranchised in 2016 because of a felony conviction, more than half were on community supervision. (Adobe Stock)
Of all the potential North Carolina voters who were disenfranchised in 2016 because of a felony conviction, more than half were on community supervision. (Adobe Stock)
September 21, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Some North Carolinians who currently are on probation, parole or post-release supervision for a felony conviction are now allowed to vote thanks to a recent court ruling. Yet advocates say the state has a long way to go when it comes to ensuring people with past felonies can cast their ballot.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a small group of residents and several advocacy groups shined light on what critics call an unconstitutional state practice, where a person's ability to pay fines, fees, and other debts associated with their felony blocked their right to vote.

Whitley Carpenter is a staff attorney at Forward Justice. She said judges often will sentence a long probation in order to give an individual time to pay associated fines.

"It's not everyone that's on probation as of now. It's really the people who have had that probation extended because they were unable to pay the court costs or they had to ask for an extension to allow them more time to pay court costs," Carpenter said.

Around 60,000 North Carolinians live and work in their communities but are unable to vote because they've had their parole extended due to outstanding fines.

The litigation is part of the Unlock Our Vote Campaign, which aims to restore voting rights to people previously convicted of felonies. Carpenter said the state's law amounted to a modern-day poll tax.

"Now to not have money is not an obstacle to getting your voting rights back," she said. "The board of elections will be updating the materials to reflect this new court decision."

She said the number of people previously denied the right to vote because they owed money could sway the November election.

"Our experts found in this case there were a number of elections that were decided by such small margins, that if voting rights were extended to people who are on community supervision, felony probation, felony parole or post-release supervision, some of the outcomes of those elections could have been different," Carpenter said.

According to data from The Sentencing Project, 42% of people on parole in the state are Black. And among formerly incarcerated Black men in North Carolina, average legal debt is more than double expected income.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC