The state’s policy of banning people convicted of felonies from voting is rooted in a late 19th century effort by North Carolina Democrats to limit voting power of newly-enfranchised African Americans as whole. In 1898, the North Carolina Democratic party spoke of the need “to rescue the white people of the east from the curse of negro domination”.
…When lawmakers passed the felon-voting law, they were open about their racial intent. The 1898 Democratic handbook in the state talked about voting restrictions necessary “to protect the white voters of the State against having their honest votes off-set by illegally and fraudulently registered negro votes”.
…Since then, North Carolina lawmakers have tweaked the law, but its core – stripping felons of their voting rights while they serve criminal sentences – remains in place.
…If someone votes while they are serving a criminal sentence, it is a so-called “strict liability” felony in North Carolina. That means that prosecutors don’t have to prove Bratcher and other people convicted of felonies intended to vote illegally in order to convict them.
…The North Carolina felon voting law has not only been discriminatory, but also confusing. A little over four months after the 2016 election, the state board of elections released a report finding there wasn’t a standardized process for informing people on probation they couldn’t vote.
…“I’ve never heard of a judge informing a convicted individual of the loss of voting rights or the process by which these can be restored,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice advocacy group. He called the many cases in which people get prosecuted for unintentionally voting illegally “disturbing”.