There has always been an assumption in America that voting is a right and privilege of its citizens. While the spirit of that argument may be meaningful, it’s not entirely accurate. The United States Constitution, when it was initially drafted and ratified, didn’t define who was eligible to vote. It left that decision up to states. On April 19, 1792, Kentucky was the first state to ban voting for anyone convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Soon after many states followed suit by prohibiting voting rights for those with conviction creating a term commonly known as “criminal disenfranchisement.” As the centuries passed and more Americans were becoming casualties of the prison system, the disenfranchised and advocates pushed to reform voting rights. Those affected by states refusing to allow voting of those convicted was gaining momentum in part by allowing a voice of the repressed. On June 24, 1974, The US Supreme Court ruled in the case Richardson v. Ramirez that disenfranchising convicted felons does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. On April 16, 1985, the US Supreme Court ruled that criminal disenfranchisement Is legal in the case of Hunter v. Underwood. The courts say voting standards are the responsibility of each state as long they do not discriminate against race, sex and those that reach the age of 18 on the day of voting. The state can rid of the homeless from voting if it chooses because they have no address to report. It is just how the law sometimes works without much sympathy for how it may impact the disenfranchised.
Today justice reforms and voting rights have been hot topics of controversy delivered with undertones of mysterious voter fraud and gerrymandering redistricting planning that suggests disenfranchisement. Election boards are often tasked to identify and disqualify those with felony criminal records. It is up to the voter to prove their rights have been restored if the state allows such a request. But what if voting rights are restored allowing those not confined to prisons or jails to vote freely? That would surely indicate the freedom to arrive on election day to cast your vote at your assigned polling place. Absolutely not! In North Carolina, all you have to be is on the sex offender registry, and the act of voting could mean spending five years in prison. Why? Nearly all of the polling locations in North Carolina are at schools or places where registrants are prohibited. The 1000-foot rule ban for registrants applies to public or private schools. Registrants are forbidden to live, work, or loiter in these invisibly marked far-reaching areas protected by unforgiving and harsh penalties. The loosely written 300-foot law was added later preventing registrants anywhere a daycare operates (private home or business) and where minors “frequently congregate.” A minor by state law is 18 years of age. Examples of restricted locations include, but not limited to libraries, arcades, amusement parks, recreation parks, swimming pools, museums, shopping malls, and fairs. The law also suggests that restaurants, businesses, and places of worship with play spaces or care services specifically intended or scheduled for minors are off limits and subject to immediate arrest. (G.S. 14-208.18) Basically, forget trying to eat at a McDonald’s without fear of someone reporting a sighting of a sex offender sitting at a table far from the play area. Therefore, don’t stop to eat at McDonald’s, then drive to the library to pick up the newest book available on your way to vote in the next election before treking home. That registrant perhaps just added 20 years of prison time for all those offenses.
However, there is a workaround allowing registrants access to voting in person. First, a registrant with voting privileges must contact his/her County Board of Elections. Usually, there is a form to request an absentee ballot. Once the form is submitted and approved a ballot will be mailed weeks before an election. It is that moment an individual can vote in the privacy of their own home. However, that person will need two required signatures from relatives or acquaintances as proof that they are who they claim to be. If registrants have no family support or available friends, the voter must locate and pay for a Public Notary to officially stamp and certify the ballot. Lastly, the absentee voter, once again, has to pay for postage to mail the excessively large envelope back before the voting deadline. It is safe to say registrants must pay $6 each time they vote.
If you are that rare and daring registrant that chooses to vote in person on election day, then you may test your luck. There is an unusual step, according to law, that loosely allows voting registrants to appear in person. First, the registrant must call the school where the voting takes place. Second, speak with the principal of the school and disclose the full name of the registered sex offender assigned to that location to vote. Third, if the principal agrees, then they must contact the County School Board of its decision to allow and escort at all times an offender on the property. Fourth, the School Board office contacts the Sheriff for guidance. Fifth, the offender is eligible to vote with police and school staff shooing families away until the registrant casts a ballot and leaves. But this tested method in practice never really works. Voters and principals don’t coordinate well with polling stations filled by long lines and the ill-timing of when registrants can arrive to vote. Early voting has its limitations too. Many satellite polling stations are at community colleges, public libraries, and YMCA locations. All of these places are off-limits or have a policy that forbids registrants.
People often ask, “why not just sneak in and out to vote?” One, it is unlawful and a public record that a vote took place in person. Two, deputies and police often patrol school grounds as resource officers keeping the schools safe in addition to voter security during high voter turnout. If an officer recognizes a registrant, then they are subject to immediate arrest for being on or near school property. A person can exclaim the principle has been notified in advance, and no children are present. It doesn’t matter because registry compliance laws are all felonies. There are limited protections within the law that allowing voting rights to registrants. However, officers typically say, “tell it to a judge.” It will always be the discretion of an officer should they choose to arrest or not. Cases in North Carolina Sex Offender Arrests for compliance violations usually say somewhere in police reports “loitering around an area minors frequent.” If minors are not present, it doesn’t matter if an arrested individual is sitting in jail only to have the case dismissed. The arrest and waste of taxpayer time, resources, in addition to crafting a charge that isn’t true but indirect significantly shakes the core of “letter and spirit of the law” of those affected. The state is the body of government that decided to use schools for polling locations but perhaps deliberately did so to keep a sex offender from voting? Nearly twenty-thousand registrants are intimidated, discouraged, and effectively banishes from reasonably accessible voting, educational, public, and right to purchase property in North Carolina.
When California introduced its version of a state sex offender registration program, its primary target was to criminalize and shame homosexuality. By the mid-’80s, the registry grew to other states targeting the worst possible repeat sex offenders. It also somewhat targeted homosexuals entangled in sexual acts with boys or consensual adult sex in public restrooms. If caught police would put into action a shaming campaign to large print media agencies and publicly mentioning them by name in community awareness meetings. Officers would describe in graph detail laced with description what transpired at the scene facilitating a sensation for others to change the story to uncontrollable measures. During that period there were no restrictions, no websites, no laws interfering with registrants. Instead, it was a carefully coordinated effort to identify and isolate a group found undesirable and highly promiscuous – as portrayed by police. Naturally, the stories police, politicians, and in the name of religion were a continual targets to purge gay life.
A couple of years later California fundamentalists and a powerful lobby group known as the Moral Majority began a campaign to insert a highly charged conservative agenda to change what were perceived by the group to be threats to society. Ronald Reagan was not elected President just yet. The mission of the Moral Majority was to mobilize a conservative political force for judgeships, Congress, and ultimately making Reagan the 40th President of the United States. It succeeded to do just that. It’s behind the scenes mission was to influence its agenda to the presidency, media, politics, businesses, and grass-roots communities. A part of that agenda was to mobilize others to support traditional family values, condemning homosexuality and the responsibility for the AIDS crisis, and sexual perversion. As the AIDS epidemic became a nightly news controversy, the Moral Majority would take to the airwaves, congregations, and radio stations across America suggesting that those with HIV or AIDS be listed on a registry. Public panic directed fear of homosexuals because they may be infected with HIV. There were awful slurs uttered that being gay also meant they are pedophile tendencies and have an agenda to infect children. It’s not uncommon to hear today that gay men are attracted to boys. It is an irrational charge that not only perpetuates lies and innuendo but extends to other groups, mainly registered offenders. The footprint of the now-defunct Moral Majority continues to linger with fundamentalist rhetoric. It continues to lay claim that “we must tighten and purge any forms of deviant sexual behaviors because there is no cure for this sickness.” As the fundamentalist’s voices become louder, so will the influence and persuasive theme that “if you say it enough, people will believe it.“
Today the registry is far incredibly beyond the visions of the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994, Megan’s Law of 1996 and the Adam Walsh Act of 2006. The registry has become a state’s rights shaming tool adding anything in any way it sees fit. The registry has evolved into this societal human data dumpster where anyone can be listed for life and unable to do anything to stop it. Three major federal acts working in concert with individual states, municipal, and town ordinance makes the registry a conundrum nearly impossible to absolve in our lifetime. Law enforcement, politicians, and fundamentalists sell and absorb it to distribute to the masses. It is when politicians create laws that restrict any form of a consistent voice is where the war on sex offender reform must begin. That discussion must include false labels, hysteria, sensationalism, lack of facts, and it’s compulsive-obsessive must-have access without any idea what to do with the information provided. At some point, the registry will become so massive that it will not only surpass jail and prison populations but will trickle into travel, insurance, health, and financial agencies as forms of approval creating black market services that will allow other criminal networks to flourish.
When North Carolina passed its comprehensive child congregation law, it made it impossible for registrants to visit his/her elected official in the state legislature. Because school groups, children, and other youth programs take place on legislative property, it disallows registrants being on the property. If representatives from NARSOL were to request a city demonstration permit to protest at the N.C. Legislative Building, it perhaps would be approved. However, all of the participants on the registry would be arrested. Merely engaging in legal, civic, and public space creates unreasonable and unconstitutional methods. If the state proceeds with plans to kick registrants off the internet, then it will add to the impossibilities to email an elected official to protest current or future legislation. The right to demonstrate, right to use libraries, pools, public parks, churches, access to voting, loitering, damaging mischaracterizations, banning registrants from use of the internet to contact his/her elected officials are “nails in the coffin.” The intent of the registry today is to uplift disenfranchisement to an insurmountable level where reforms and rehabilitation will never be allowed to have a voice.
Assessing LGBT issues in contrast to registered sex offenders is essential. While many may disagree with similarities, the laws that once restricted and intruded upon gay life, suspicion, and rumor are strikingly similar to that of registrants. Gays were fired from jobs for suspecting to be gay. Accesses to lawmakers was always a closed door to gay advocates. Pools didn’t want gay people fearing that AIDS would infect the water. Street gangs would beat up gays on the way to polling to intimidate and frighten. Churches didn’t want gays and if they did insist, they attend conversion therapy (similar to sex offender treatment). Gays were often subject to arrests just for being gay. Thanks to the Stonewall Riots in New York, the intimidation suddenly stopped. I’m not suggesting registrants’ riot or commit acts of violence. But all of these acts didn’t require being on a registry. LGBT citizens have been erroneously mislabeled, arrested for protesting, arrested for consensual actions, wrongly accused of misconduct, and the list is nearly identical for registrants. What the gay community did to change that was come together and unify, much like NARSOL and other organizations. It is safe to say that the message often isn’t unified or in agreement. That is completely okay. But it is ultimately crucial that a message from all walks of life, backgrounds, genders, religious affiliation, identity, political influencers, age, race, and disabilities become a louder and amplified voice for how legislation, restrictions, and promotion of the culture of fear standard hurt families, commerce and a create a pathway towards socialism. Being told where to live, where to work, what’s off limits, no accesses to God or religion, told where and when to shop, to ask permission to attend school, standing in food bank lines to get a loaf of bread and report to the police periodically when requested. It has the smell of communism but branded as socialism.
This very moment, registrants are the newly rebranded “Immoral Majority“. Its mission to engage with media such as radio, print, or television. Contact politicians, support businesses that hire registrants or formerly incarcerated, actively vote, and speak about how family values have been disruptive and an impact to self and others because of the registry. Be persistent, professional, to the point, thankful for the opportunity to be heard, and unafraid of constant rejection. Lastly, pray for self and others. The message to lawmakers is that “voting rights of a million registrants and growing aren’t disenfranchised anymore.” As American citizens, there must be equal access under the law and spirit of independence without fearing our neighbor. The silence attempt by legislation is clearly an attack on democracy, freedom, and justice. The registry is an un-American tactical product disguised as an act of safety but delivered as a Ponzi scheme. Registrants may be the swing vote to turn the next election?