North Carolina’s law banning many people with felony records from voting after they get out of prison is unconstitutional, a state court ruled Monday, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. Until now, state law allowed people with felony convictions to vote only after they finished their sentence. That include their prison sentence and their included probation or parole period, which can last for years after someone is released from prison. Monday’s ruling changes that. Now — pending an appeal — people with criminal records can vote once they have rejoined society and are no longer behind bars. In a 2-1 ruling of a judicial panel, the majority wrote that “if a person otherwise eligible to vote is not in jail or prison for a felony conviction, they may lawfully register and vote in North Carolina.” The law is unconstitutional for violating people’s rights, the judges wrote Monday, but also for being explicitly targeted at Black people. They wrote that the law “was enacted with the intent of discriminating against African American people and has a demonstrably disproportionate and discriminatory impact.”
State leaders created felon disenfranchisement after the Civil War for explicitly racist purposes, with police rounding up newly freed Black residents all around the state and charging them with bogus crimes in order to stop them from being able to use their new right to vote. A lawyer for the state said the legislature made several significant changes to the law in the 1970s, prodded by the civil rights movement, to address its racist nature. The judges said that some of the decisions made in the 1970s, like keeping people on probation or parole from voting, were racially motivated as well. Furthermore, they said, the mere passage of time doesn’t erase the law’s racist history. They found that “there is no evidence” the law ever would’ve been written, if not for racial motivations.