Amendment: For

October 28, 2010 

In a year in which the meaning of the U.S. Constitution has emerged as a national election issue, North Carolina voters are getting a chance to tinker with our state's constitution. On Tuesday's ballot is a short constitutional amendment that hasn't attracted much attention - partly because it's aimed at such a narrow target, and partly because most folks would figure that the change it seeks is already law.

But it's not. As the primary elections in May showed, convicted felons can and do run for the office of county sheriff in North Carolina. The amendment, if it passes, bars the door to that happening again.

Here's the ballot's wording: "Constitutional amendment providing that no person convicted of a felony may serve as Sheriff. For/Against."

On balance, the change makes sense. A "For" vote is in order here.

As usual with constitutional amendments, there's a backstory. This one mainly concerns former Davidson County sheriff Gerald Hege, who was removed from office in 2004 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. This spring he ran to regain the office, but lost (as did the five other felons around the state who hankered to be sheriffs). In reaction, legislators this summer voted to place an amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot altering Article VII, section 2 of the state constitution to make it clear that felons - who can't be deputies or police officers - can't be sheriffs either.

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.

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