With a formal apology, the Buncombe County Board of Elections canceled the candidacy of Michael Morgan for Buncombe County sheriff. The board met in a special session on March 6 to rule on the status of Morgan, who had filed as a Libertarian candidate in February; he had been campaigning publicly and actively since last year.
Morgan is a felon who readily admits that he served time for a conviction for manslaughter, though he denies committing the crime. Article VII, Sec. 2 of the state constitution, passed in 2010, explicitly prohibits former felons from serving as sheriff, regardless of whether their rights of citizenship have been restored.
In filing to run for office, board Chairman John Watson said, Morgan was not in the wrong, since neither of the filing forms made clear he would not be eligible to serve. “I want to apologize, to you, sir, that you got caught in this. There’s nothing on that form that would have alerted you,” Watson said.
According to Watson, the staff of the county Board of Elections “came across” the constitutional passage that blocks Morgan’s candidacy and brought it to the attention of the board.
The Notice of Candidacy and Candidate Felony Disclosure forms Morgan filled out ask for felony disclosure, but both forms also state, “A prior felony conviction does not preclude holding elected office if rights of citizenship have been restored.” On the forms, Morgan declared he had been convicted of a felony.
The board did not open the floor for public comment, nor did it allow Morgan to argue his case. When Watson asked if Morgan had any questions, Morgan noted that he thought the constitutional provision was “a bad law … with the war on drugs we’ve disenfranchised millions of people, whether they went to prison or not.”
In a written statement submitted during the emergency meeting, Morgan informed the local board of his intention to appeal the cancelation.
As for the actions of the local board, Watson said, the decision was final. Morgan responded that he would try to appeal the decision with the state Board of Elections and pursue legal recourse. He also said he would continue a write-in campaign even if his name doesn’t appear on the ballot.
Morgan’s filing fee of $1,302 is slated to be refunded, Watson said. He also noted that the local board has requested that state forms be updated to reflect the constitutional requirement. The board will follow up with a written request, Watson said, commenting, “This is an issue that needs to be addressed in the form.”
Morgan has previously run for state and federal office, but this is his first attempt for the sheriff’s office.
Elsewhere in the state, similar issues are under discussion. In Davidson County, the former sheriff who inspired the constitutional amendment is attempting to run again this year. And in Swain County, election officials are considering whether an alleged dishonorable discharge might disqualify a sheriff from holding office.