When North Carolinians cast their votes this election season, they will be asked whether to amend the state constitution such that it would prohibit any convicted felon from serving as sheriff. The constitutional amendment serves as the General Assembly’s response to six instances of felons running in this year’s primaries for sheriff. All six candidates lost. The counties in which felons ran for sheriff include Avery, Dare, Davidson, McDowell, Washington and Wilkes.
Surely, the notion that a convicted felon should not serve as sheriff is reasonable. Yet voters should inspect the proposal thoroughly before casting their ballot. The amendment would prohibit even those felons whose rights of citizenship are fully restored upon paying their debt to society from holding the office of sheriff. The full text of the amendment is as follows:
“No person is eligible to serve as Sheriff if that person has been convicted of a felony against this State, the United States, or another state, whether or not that person has been restored to the rights of citizenship in the manner prescribed by law. Convicted of a felony includes the entry of a plea of guilty; a verdict or finding of guilt by a jury, judge, magistrate, or other adjudicating body, tribunal, or official, either civilian or military; or a plea of no contest, nolo contendere, or the equivalent.”
Rarely has the notion that “politics makes for strange bedfellows” rang more true. The referendum represents a truly non-partisan issue as can be evidenced by the fact that BlueNC, a far-left blog, and ConservativeNC, obviously a right-wing blog, contain posts opposing the measure.
Arguments in favor of the proposal legitimately claim that felons have exhibited poor judgment and thus do not live up to the high standards required to hold the office of sheriff. As such, a blanket prohibition is necessary to ensure that felons cannot be elected sheriff. Opponents argue that voters ought to decide on a case by cases basis whether a felon is worthy of the office of sheriff. Further, opponents have a point to that felons whose rights have been restored should not continue to be punished after having paid their debt to society.
Essentially, the question is whether individuals should continue to be punished for their felonious transgressions even after each has paid his debt to society and had his rights of citizenship restored and, further, at what point in the political process the issue should be resolved. Before casting your ballot, consider the implications of your vote. Issues are rarely as clear as they appear on the surface. Do your due diligence because on Election Day, the decision is yours.
This article originally appeared in the Lincoln Tribune on October 29, 2010.