Sheriff’s candidate with felony cannot hold office

By Kitsey E. Burns kburns@civitasmedia.com

April 23, 2014

YADKINVILLE — Last week The Yadkin Ripple reported that candidate for sheriff, Gary Willard, would be eligible to hold the office if elected, despite the fact that he has a felony conviction from another state for having a concealed weapon. The Yadkin County Board of Elections released a statement today saying there had been an oversight on this matter and Willard will, in fact, not be able to hold the office if elected. Any votes for Willard in the Republican primary race for Yadkin County sheriff will not count.

According to the Yadkin County Board of Elections, “There has been an oversight and that in following the custom of Gary Willard filing in the last Republican primary sheriff’s race, which was May 4, 2010, and before that in the Republican primary sheriff’s race of Sept. 10, 2002, he was allowed to file for this May 6 Republican primary race. This oversight is in view of a law that was voted on in the last 2010 General Election which states, ‘no person is eligible to serve as sheriff if that person has been convicted of a felony’ under section two of article VII of the NC Constitution.

“Yet, all other offices do allow convicted felons once their rights have been restored, if they are the winner in that category, to serve in that office. Since it is an oversight, any votes that Mr. Willard gets will not count toward him holding office. Any questions may be directed to our office at 336-679-4227.”

In 2010, new legislation lead to adding the following to section two, article VII of the North Carolina Constitution, “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 the law. Convicted of a felony includes the entry of a plea of guilty; a verdict or finding of guilt by 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.”

Officials at the Yadkin County Board of Elections must reference a manual that is more than 1,000 pages in length and the above information was not listed in the section on candidacy filing. This along with the fact that Willard had filed in two previous primary elections for sheriff, disclosing the fact that he did have a prior felony charge, lead to the mistake, elections officials said.

Willard joined the three other candidates Eric Ball, Donnie Talley and incumbent Sheriff Ricky Oliver in a candidate forum held last night at the Yadkin County Courthouse.

One-stop early voting begins tomorrow at the Yadkin County Board of Elections office, located in the Planning Building at 213 E. Elm St. in Yadkinville. One-stop voting will be held from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. through May 2, except Sunday. One-stop voting on May 3 will be held from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Election Day is May 6.

Kitsey E. Burns can be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.