Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina voters will decide in the upcoming election whether to change the state constitution to prohibit convicting felons from serving as a county sheriff.
During the May primary, Gerald Hege was on the ballot to become sheriff in Davidson County, a job he held before he pleaded guilty in 2004 to two felony counts of obstruction of justice.
After Hege's defeat in the primary – five other convicted felons who ran for sheriff statewide also lost in the primary – lawmakers passed a bill to put the prohibition on the November ballot.
Since sheriff is a constitutionally created position, any changes to the job requirements must be made through an amendment to the state constitution.
Melisia Prout, president and chief executive of nonprofit Salvation's Way, which provides legal counsel to low-income people, fought Hege's candidacy. She supports the proposed amendment.
"The constitutional qualifications are not our main focus. It's the statutory qualifications you cannot get around," Prout said. "The fact that a convicted felon cannot be in care or control of a firearm, that statute does not say 'unless elected sheriff.'"
Although state and federal laws bar felons from possessing firearms, the constitution doesn't require a sheriff to carry a weapon.