No fewer than 56,000 North Carolina residents convicted of felony will regain their right to vote, a state Superior Court panel ruled this week.
Previously, under North Carolina law, residents convicted of felony would only regain their right to vote after serving their full sentence, including probation and parole. With this week’s decision, their voting rights will be restored upon release from prison.
The same panel last year blocked enforcement of the provision of the law that required people to pay their fines before regaining the right to vote.
The three-judge panel released its ruling on Monday and said a formal written ruling would follow later.
The move comes as states across the country continue to relax laws regarding the right to vote of those convicted of felony. At least 21 states are now restoring the right to vote on release from prison. Residents with crimes never lose the right to vote in Maine, Vermont and Washington, DC
Daryl Atkinson, co-director of Forward Justice, a North Carolina-based civil rights group, in a press conference called this week’s decision “the biggest 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 that it was used to prevent 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 felony denial of the right to vote law dates back to 1877, just over a decade after the end of the Civil War.
Republican state lawmakers will appeal this week’s ruling to a higher court, The Washington Post reported.