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A Guilford voter registration drive targets those needing a 'second chance' — felons

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Sharion Wanton (left) and Charles Hinsley were ready to register people to vote at a booth beside the Guilford County Courthouse in Greensboro on Monday.

GREENSBORO — A former inmate and a retired prison warden worked together Monday with the same goal in mind: registering people with felony convictions to vote.

Such a goal would have been unreachable a year ago, but a recent N.C. Appeals Court decision allows people on probation, parole or post-release supervision for felony convictions to register and vote in elections. An appeal is pending before the state Supreme Court.

The ruling stems from a March 28 order by trial judges that struck down a state law passed in 1973. In a 2-1 decision, the trial judge panel declared the 1973 law violates the state constitution largely because it discriminates against Black residents.

For so many years, “it has been locked up that once you committed a felony that voting was not even on the table for you,” Sharion Wanton said Monday while staffing a voter registration booth outside the Guilford County Courthouse in Greensboro.

Wanton, who served eight years in a Florida prison for dealing in stolen property, now works as a peer counselor for the Guilford County Reentry Council. She sat at the booth alongside Charles Hinsley, who was a prison warden in Illinois.

“Whatever effort I can do to support initiatives that are going to reform our community, our criminal justice system, I try to become a part of it,” Hinsley said.

He volunteers for Unlock the Vote, an initiative launched by Forward Justice — the organization that filed the lawsuit seeking to restore voting rights for more than 55,000 people convicted of felonies in North Carolina.

By 1 p.m. Monday — the first day the booth was in Greensboro — four people with a felony record were registered, Hinsley said.

A similar booth placed outside of the Guilford County Courthouse in High Point for three days last week resulted in about 13 voter registrations, according to Hinsley.

The voter registration booths will be set up in the plazas outside both courthouses — 505 E. Green Drive in High Point and 201 S. Eugene St. in Greensboro — from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through Oct. 13.

“We got a lot of people interested,” he said. “A lot of people come to the table, curious, with lots of conversation about it. And many people say they are registered and others say what they want to think about it.”

Hinsley said people are cynical that their vote will actually count. “I try to encourage them and give them the reasons for how valuable it is, as a citizen, to have such a right and to exercise that right.”

According to a news release from Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers, the Reentry Council, You Can Vote and NAACP are conducting a voter registration campaign for those inside the Greensboro and High Point jails.

“Second chance is a big factor here,” Wanton said. “We have to give people a second chance. And sometimes a third chance, but at least get an opportunity to make a change in life — not just with voting, but with employment, with housing, all that matters.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Kenwyn Caranna at 336-373-7082.

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