An ex-felon can run for a North Carolina legislative seat this year, the State Board of Elections ruled on Tuesday, upholding a county election board’s determination that he’s been discharged for the crimes from another state.
State board members participating in the meeting voted unanimously to confirm last week’s divided decision by the Rockingham County Board of Elections to deny a candidate challenge against Joseph Gibson III and to declare he’s qualified to run for a state House seat.
Gibson is set to run in the March 5 Republican primary against Rep. Reece Pyrtle, who defeated Gibson in the 2022 primary with nearly 80% of the vote. The winner will face no Democratic opposition in the fall.
Rockingham County GOP chairwoman Diane Parnell filed a candidate challenge in December, alleging that Gibson may be ineligible to run for office, citing information that Gibson had been convicted of felonies dating back to the 1990s.
North Carolina law says a felony offender’s voting rights — and thus the ability to run for office — are restored after the person completes time behind bars and any state supervision as a probationer or parolee. Parnell’s filing said she wasn’t aware that such restoration had occurred.
Gibson said during Tuesday’s meeting that he had completed sentences for crimes in Connecticut, which the county board said included his time as a probationer in North Carolina that ended in 2008.
While Gibson has no documentation of such a discharge, he is not on a list of convicted felons provided by the State Board of Elections to Rockingham County officials. And a state board attorney said Tuesday that Gibson didn’t necessarily have to show discharge paperwork to qualify.
Some state Republican activists who wanted to block Gibson’s candidacy have accused him of holding neo-Nazi beliefs. One of them said Democrats wanted Gibson on a ballot to attempt to embarrass the GOP.
Gibson was mentioned in a 2022 report by an arm of the Anti-Defamation League as holding extreme views. Gibson denies the neo-Nazi accusation, telling WRAL-TV last week that he gets callers of all political persuasions to his podcast radio show. His beliefs weren’t discussed in Tuesday’s meeting.
The Rockingham board had voted 3-2 along party lines to deny the challenge, with the board’s Democrats in the majority. On Tuesday, the two Republicans on the state board agreed that it was appropriate to defer to the county’s board decision given its scrutiny of a complex matter.
“The record is probably sufficient to support whatever conclusion the county board had made,” GOP board member Kevin Lewis said before Tuesday’s 4-0 vote.
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