New Hanover Sheriff, Ed McMahon, midterms
New Hanover Sheriff Ed McMahon holds one of his campaign signs as voters arrive at Eaton Elementary School in Wilmington on Tuesday night, less than two hours before polls closed across the county. The photo was taken at 5:38pm and the polls closed at 7:30pm. Photo: Mark Darrough / Carolina Public Press

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Twenty-four counties will have new sheriffs in December.

Residents in 43 of North Carolina’s 100 counties voted in sheriff’s elections during the Nov. 8 general election. Of those counties, 24 elected new sheriffs, according to election results from the N.C. State Board of Elections.

Sheriff elections date back to the signing of the North Carolina State Constitution in 1868, which states that the sheriff is to “preserve the peace and public order, enforce the criminal laws, prevent and detect crime, provide security for courts, serve criminal warrants and other writs and summonses, and transport prisoners.” The sheriff’s office is also the primary law enforcement agency for the unincorporated areas of the county, as stated on the Wake County Sheriff’s Office website.

“I feel like most people just want to feel safe. That’s my big push,” said one of the reelects, Sheriff Ed McMahon of New Hanover County, on the day of his reelection. McMahon has been at the sheriff’s office for 13 years.

The results of Tuesday’s election show that half of the state’s newly elected sheriffs align with their predecessors’ party affiliations, and half affiliate with different parties than their predecessors.

Of the 12 counties that elected sheriffs with a different political affiliation, seven switched from a Democrat and two switched from an unaffiliated leader to a Republican. Voters in two counties — Granville and Halifax — replaced Republican sheriffs with Democratic sheriffs, and Graham County elected an unaffiliated sheriff over the Republican candidate.

The increase in Republican sheriffs and decrease in Democratic and unaffiliated sheriffs do not show a significant change in North Carolina’s county law enforcement leadership.

The state is now home to 64 Republican, 35 Democratic and one unaffiliated sheriffs.

Before the election, 58 sheriffs were Republicans, 40 were Democrats and two were unaffiliated, according to the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association list of all 100 sheriffs statewide.

As elected leaders, sheriffs “report solely to the citizens within their jurisdiction,” according to the Sheriff’s Association.

At a time when trust in law enforcement is being challenged throughout the country, sheriff’s elections are important ones to watch.

Many North Carolinians bear this distrust of police after incidents occurred in the Tar Heel State — such as a shooting in January when an off-duty sheriff’s deputy killed Jason Walker in Fayetteville.

Months after Walker’s death, the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys announced that the deputy, Jeffrey Hash, would not be criminally charged, saying he acted in self-defense.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office placed Hash on paid administrative leave in January and has not updated the public on his employment status since.

Ennis W. Wright served as the county’s sheriff when the shooting occurred. Wright was reelected Tuesday.

The 24 newly elected sheriffs will take office in early December and serve four-year terms. There are no term limits for sheriffs in North Carolina.

Shelby Harris

Shelby Harris a Carolina Public Press staff writer, based in Asheville. Email her at sharris@carolinapublicpress.org to contact her.

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  1. You forgot to mention that New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon, featured in this article and re-elected yesterday, is a popular sheriff here and a Democrat. North Carolinians’ fears and mistrust of law enforcement and the ability of Democratic sheriffs and other Democratic politicians to keep our communities safe has been fueled by Republican false ads and other political rhetoric and is unfounded.