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Voters to Decide on Amendment Banning Felons from Running for Sheriff
By Bryan Warner
Published: Oct. 27, 2010
RALEIGH - This election, North Carolina voters face the question of amending the state’s constitution to bar convicted felons from running for sheriff.
If supported by a majority of North Carolina voters, the amendment would change Section 2 of Article VII in the N.C. Constitution, which provides the guidelines for electing sheriffs.
The proposed ban makes no distinction as to the type of felony for which an individual is convicted. It would also apply to convicted felons who have received a restoration of their citizenship rights, which occurs automatically upon completion of their sentence and probation.
Currently, the state constitution has no ban on convicted felons seeking any office in North Carolina -- including governor or judge -- once their citizenship rights have been restored.
Momentum for the proposal grew in the wake of six convicted felons running for sheriff during this year’s primary elections around the state, including former sheriffs convicted of felonies in Washington and Davidson counties. None of the six won their primary race.
“Sheriff is the number one law enforcement officer in the county and that individual should be above reproach and be able to carry a weapon, and that’s not the case if they are a felon,” Rep. Ronnie Sutton of Robeson County said prior to a June vote on the amendment in the N.C. House.
Before being presented to North Carolina voters, proposed amendments to the state constitution require three-fifths approval in both chambers of the legislature -- a bar easily cleared by the measure, with just one dissenting vote cast in the two bodies.
Among those who support the amendment is the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, for which the proposal was a top legislative priority this year. The association notes that convicted felons are prohibited from serving as sheriff’s deputies by law enforcement certification agencies.
The N.C. Libertarian Party is among those who oppose the proposal, saying in a statement, “This amendment is a slap in the face of voters. It assumes voters are not intelligent enough to decide for themselves who is fit for public office.”
If passed, the ban on convicted felons running for sheriff would be the first amendment to the state constitution since 2004. In 1980, North Carolina voters approved an amendment requiring that judicial candidates be licensed to practice law in the state.