North Carolina No Convicted Felons for Sheriff Amendment (2010)

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North Carolina Constitution
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Preamble
Articles
IIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXIXIIXIIIXIV
The North Carolina Davidson County Sheriff Election Amendment was on the November 2, 2010 ballot in the state of North Carolina as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, where it was approved.Approveda The proposed constitutional change, also known as Senate Bill 351, would alter the state constitution to prohibit convicted felons from running for sheriff in the state.[1]

The measure was introduced by Senator Stan Bingham during the week of May 17, 2010, in light of the Davidson County sheriff race where candidate Gerald Hege ran as a former convicted felon. Hege was running for the position five years after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice charges. His bid for the position failed.[2]

According to Bingham, "I was actually called by four different sheriffs in four counties who had concerns about this because of the working relationship they had in the past." Hege stated, "It's a great expense to do all of this to stop one man from running for sheriff-to protect your neighbor and friend."

Election results

See also: 2010 ballot measure election results
North Carolina No Convicted Felons for Sheriff
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 2,090,837 84.96%
No370,02315.04%

Results via North Carolina Secretary of State - November 2 unofficial election results

Text of measure

Ballot title

The ballot language that voters saw on their ballot read:

"[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST
Constitutional amendment providing that no person convicted of a felony may serve as sheriff."[3]

Summary

The summary of the measure read:

An Act to amend the Constitution of North Carolina to provide that no person convicted of a felony is eligible to be elected sheriff.[3]

Constitutional changes

North Carolina No Convicted Felons for Sheriff Amendment (2010), constitutional changes

The measure was proposed to amend Article VII, Section 2 of the North Carolina Constitution.

Support

Supporters

  • Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson was in support of the measure. According to a press release by the county's sheriff's department, "Sheriff Johnson indicated that he felt it was unacceptable to have felons serving as the head law enforcement official in any county of North Carolina."[4]
  • The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association (NCSA) voted on March 17, 2010 to back the measure. According to the group's press release, "The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association does not want something as crucial and fundamental to professional law enforcement as the public trust to be placed in the hands of a known felon, having been found to be such in a court of law."[5]
  • Executive vice president of the Sheriffs' Association stated before the election that there were at least four convicted felons that bid to run for the office this year in the state, and that fact should lead to big support for the measure.[2]
  • NCSA Executive Vice President and General Counsel Eddi Caldwell stated, “We support this 1,000 percent. We asked for the bill to be introduced, have supported it all the way through this process and hope that the voters will approve it.”[6]
  • Melisia Prout, president and chief executive of nonprofit Salvation's Way, supported the amendment. Prout, who fought Gerald Hege's sheriff candidacy, stated, "The constitutional qualifications are not our main focus. It's the statutory qualifications you cannot get around. The fact that a convicted felon cannot be in care or control of a firearm, that statute does not say 'unless elected sheriff.'"[7]

Arguments

  • Jim Longworth, host of Triad Today, a locally-produced public affairs program based out of Piedmont, North Carolina, wrote an editorial before the election that gave these reasons as to why the measure should pass:[8]
A sheriff who was a felon wouldn't have credibility to younger generations when convincing them to stay out of trouble.
A contradiction of laws: A sheriff could not hire a felon as a deputy, but the sheriff could still be a felon.
A convicted felon could not carry firearms, which meant a county's sheriff would not be able to carry a gun, and would be a target to criminals.

Opposition

Opponents

  • According to reports, Gerald Hege, who was running for the position of sheriff in Davidson County, stated that the measure being proposed wasn't about the issue, but more about politics.[1]
  • The North Carolina Libertarian Party opposed the measure in a press release, stating, "The proposed amendment to North Carolina’s constitution to ban convicted felons from running for county sheriff is yet another unnecessary, unwarranted, and immoral restriction on the voting rights of the people of North Carolina."[9]

Potential sheriffs

  • Other candidates that were running for sheriff as felons at the time the measure was proposed, and their respective counties, included:[10]
Nub Taylor-Avery County: Pleaded guilty to charges of obstruction
Mark Steward-McDowell County: Convicted of selling drugs
Stanly Jones-Washington County: Served a jail sentence for embezzlement
David Morrow-Cleveland County: Drug conviction

Arguments

  • The North Carolina Libertarian Party argued in a press release why the measure was wrong: “There are so many things that our legislature has made felonies (stealing pine straw, for example) that such a broad prohibition is unworkable. We already have too many normal, peaceful activities that cause no harm to anyone, but which have been declared felonies because some group or special interest believes they are offensive or wrong."[9]
  • Another argument that was made was that amendment was not needed and would add unnecessary text that would clutter up the state constitution.[11]

Other perspectives

  • The North Carolina Secretary of State issued the following statement in regards to the measure, stating, "The Constitution of North Carolina belongs to the people of North Carolina. As with every proposed constitution amendment, the voters have an important opportunity here to carefully consider this proposed change and cast their ballots according to the facts and to their personal beliefs.”[12]

Media endorsements

See also Endorsements of North Carolina ballot measures, 2010

Support

  • The Dispatch, the newspaper for Davidson County, wrote an article in favor of the measure. The publication wrote, "State Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, has been a driving force behind the effort to bar felons from running for sheriff. He's received support from the North Carolina Sheriffs Association. The initial House vote was 112-0 in favor of the bill. Those two facts should sway any voters who have questions about the wisdom of the amendment."[13]
  • The Winston Salem Journal published an editorial on July 10, 2010, calling for support of the amendment. The publication wrote that there were a number of ways that a felon could win an election, whether by default or other ways: "It is also entirely possible that someone's criminal background could go undetected until it was too late. With it emblazoned in the constitution that such a person cannot be sheriff, the odds of it happening become much smaller. When voters go to the polls in November, they will very likely pass this amendment overwhelmingly. It simply makes too much sense, and we wonder why it wasn't part of the constitution already."[14]
  • The News & Observer stated support for the measure, claiming, "Why not let just anyone run? The Sheriffs Association sensibly says that even the possibility of a felonious sheriff tarnishes the integrity of the office. And seen-it-all citizens may not be sure that such a candidate could never win. True, the amendment limits a convicted felon's "right" to run for or hold a top law-enforcement office. That, however, is one right we can live without.[15]

Path to the ballot

The measure was approved by the North Carolina Senate on June 23, 2010 by a vote of 46-1. The bill was then sent to the North Carolina House of Representatives for a vote where it was approved unanimously. The last step for the measure to make the ballot was for the House to approve ballot language. Section 4 of Article XIII of the North Carolina Constitution says that a legislatively-referred amendment can go on the ballot if approved by a 60% vote of each house of the North Carolina State Legislature. The measure was then sent to the ballot on July 1, 2010.[16][17]

See also

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