As many as 56,000 North Carolinians with felony convictions will regain their right to vote, a panel of the state Superior Court ruled this week.
Previously under North Carolina law, residents with felony convictions would not regain their right to vote until after they finished their complete sentences, including probation and parole. With this week’s ruling, their voting rights will be restored when they leave prison.
The same panel last year blocked enforcement of the law’s provision that forced people to pay their fines before regaining the right to vote.
The three-judge panel released its ruling Monday and said a formal written decision will follow later.
This ruling comes as states around the country continue to loosen laws around voting rights for people with felony convictions. At least 21 states now reinstate voting privileges upon release from prison. Residents with felonies never lose the right to vote in Maine, Vermont and Washington, D.C.
Daryl Atkinson, co-director of Forward Justice, a North Carolina-based civil rights group, in a news conference called this week’s ruling “the largest expansion of voting rights in this state since the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”
Forward Justice, along with other civil rights groups such as the North Carolina NAACP, sued the state over the law, arguing it has been used to keep Black people from voting.
Black residents make up about 21% of the state’s population but 40% of those on parole or supervised release, according to The New York Times. The law around felony disenfranchisement dates back to 1877, a little more than a decade after the Civil War ended.
Republican state lawmakers will appeal this week’s decision to a higher court, The Washington Post reported.