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Voting advocates continue to spread word on re-enfranchisement of those on probation or parole

Photo: Clayton Henkel

The North Carolina Community Bail Fund of Durham is launching a voter registration and education drive in majority-Black communities starting this Sunday through the close of early voting on Nov. 5. They will place special emphasis on telling those on probation or some other form of post-release supervision that they have the right to cast a ballot in this year’s election.

About 56,000 people had their votes “unlocked” earlier this year after court rulings stating that people convicted of a felony who are on probation, parole or some other form of supervision can vote. Now, the only people convicted of a felony in North Carolina who are ineligible to vote are those who are currently imprisoned.

Documents filed in that underlying lawsuit state that felony disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts African American voters, who make up 21% of the voting age population but 42% of those who lost the right to vote because they are on probation or some other form of supervision for a felony.

The Bail Fund’s voter registration and education efforts will target affordable housing residents in the Cornwallis Road and McDougald Terrace communities, neighborhoods where the majority of residents are Black. Organizers will also drive them to the North Carolina Central University’s School of Law Early Voting site so they can cast their ballots.

The event runs from 2 to 6 p.m. on Oct. 30, at 640 Nelson St. in Durham. The Bail Fund will continue community outreach after this Sunday’s efforts, visiting low-income, majority-Black neighborhoods across the city. They will be offering both education and transportation to the polls.

“Our communities have been underrepresented and disenfranchised for far too long. We want to get the word out to as many people as we can that they can still register and vote during early voting to have their voices be heard this election,” said Bail Fund director Andrea Hudson.

The Bail Fund’s work is part of a broader statewide effort led by the group Forward Justice to inform those on felony supervision that they have the right to vote this Election Day.

Partner organizations in the “Unlock Our Vote movement,” which includes the North Carolina Justice Center, of which Policy Watch is a project, have been holding voter registration drives across the state for the past three and a half months. They hosted a “souls to the polls” rally in Raleigh last Saturday. Organizers offered free food and music to prospective voters, then marched with them to the local polling place so they could cast ballots during the early voting period.

“Holding events and spaces like this right now is critically important because so much is at stake in this upcoming election,” said Diana Powell, the executive director of Justice Served for NC. “Our goal is to bring people together to make sure they know their rights, are aware that their votes have been unlocked, and ensure they have the resources and information they need to feel empowered to make their voices heard at the ballot box. Our communities won’t be silenced anymore.”

The Unlock Our Vote coalition members have called each of the 56,000 people on felony supervision to tell them they are now eligible to vote and make sure they have the materials they need. They also sent snail mail and text messages to all 56,000 people.

Here is a story about the kickoff of the Unlock Our Vote campaign over the summer.

Note that prior to Election Day, Policy Watch will publish an in-depth story about the efforts to convince those on felony supervision that they can, and should, vote — and the challenges that can arise when working with those returning home from prison.

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Voting advocates continue to spread word on re-enfranchisement of those on probation or parole