Electing a sheriff for Durham County could end up in the county commissioners' hands.
Former sheriff Roland Leary has challenged Republican Roy Taylor's candidacy, claiming Taylor has not lived in Durham County long enough to qualify for election.
Taylor is running against incumbent Democrat Worth Hill in the Nov. 2 election, but the Board of Elections' hearing on the challenge won't be held until Nov. 11. That leaves open several scenarios, according to Elections Director Mike Ashe:
- If Hill wins the election, the hearing is cancelled and it's a moot point;
- If Taylor wins the election, the hearing is held and, if the elections board decides he is properly qualified, Taylor would be certified and become sheriff;
- If Taylor wins but the elections board decides he is not qualified, the office of sheriff becomes vacant and it would be up to the county commissioners to appoint or elect a sheriff. Their first scheduled meeting after the hearing date is Nov. 22.
Ironically, the last time Durham County commissioners had to pick a sheriff was when Leary retired mid-term in 1992 after 10 years in office. They chose Al Hight, a former Durham policeman and county commissioner, who served until Hill was elected in 1994.
Leary, a Democrat, has contributed $500 to Hill's re-election campaign, according to reports filed with the Board of Elections.
Leary and Taylor will be subpoenaed for the hearing, Ashe said; the board of elections meets several times before the election, and may subpoena other people and/or documents.
Taylor moved to Durham in 2000, but for several months in 2009 he resided in Wake County. State law requires a candidate for sheriff to have lived in the county where he or she is running for at least 12 months before the election.
That is the basis of Leary's challenge. Taylor, though, maintains that he is eligible because the state constitution requires only a 30-day residence for voting and provides that any qualified voter may run for office.
Last week, Taylor withdrew from the race due to the 12-month residency law, but changed his mind after consulting with attorneys. After deciding to remain in the race, he said he expected a legal challenge but was confident his eligibility would be affirmed.