Restoring Voting Rights

Voting sets the path for the future of our towns, states and nation. And for those who have paid their debt to society following a conviction, voting is a way to reclaim their voices and restore their position as active members of their communities.

In Florida, more than 1.4 million people were denied the right to vote because they had a prior felony conviction. Until November 2018, Florida was one of four states in the country that permanently took voting rights away from returning citizens, even after those citizens had completed the terms of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation. As a result, Florida had disenfranchised more potential voters than any other state, with more than 10 percent of all potential voters and more than 21 percent of potential African American voters in Florida unable to vote due to felony records.

Amendment 4—the Voting Restoration Amendment—set out to right this wrong. A grassroots movement led by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, with support from Mountain and others, gathered more than 1.2 million signatures to put the issue on the November 2018 ballot. And they did. Over 5 million voters in Florida cast a vote for what was America’s largest re-enfranchisement moment since the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Despite their newfound eligibility to vote, many remain disenfranchised due to coordinated efforts to keep them from the polls.  Undeterred, implementation of Amendment 4 remains an ongoing priority to Mountain grantees in Florida.

Amendment 4 overwhelmingly passed, which means that returning citizens should now enjoy the rights of any citizen in our democracy.

In the state of North Carolina, people who have been convicted of a felony lose their right to vote not only during any period of incarceration, but also throughout the duration of their probation and post-release supervision periods—thus stripping away their rights to full participation in the democratic process and their ability to have a voice in policy decisions that affect their lives.

In 2020, a new judicial ruling opened the door for some felons on probation or parole to vote in North Carolina’s elections. A panel of three judges ruled that the State cannot prevent citizens who owe fines, fees, and other debts from a felony conviction from voting – calling it essentially a poll tax and a relic of the Jim Crow era.

This was a huge win for Mountain grantee, Forward Justice, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of four organizational  and six individual plaintiffs in Wake County Superior Court. The suit sought to reinstate voting rights for nearly 60,000 North Carolinians previously convicted of felonies who had their right to vote taken away.

We are fighting to ensure equal access to the ballot, by advocating that everyone, despite their criminal record history, should be able to participate in our democracy and working to overturn an unconstitutional disenfranchisement law that disproportionately impacts people of color.

However, the fight continues. Tens of thousands of people on community supervision remain disenfranchised as the ruling only applied to those who still owe fines and fees.

In Florida, North Carolina, and across the country, Mountain Partners are committed to an inclusive democracy.  Where all citizens – including those who have paid a debt to society – are eligible to their right to vote.