image credit, You Can Vote.

The May 8 primary includes local offices in many districts. This week, we're going to learn about some of these local positions, starting with the sheriff. We've seen sheriffs in Westerns, but many of us don't know how the current day sheriff differs from the police and what the sheriff's office actually does.

Unlike the police department, which is administered by a city/town/village/municipality, the sheriff is elected to a four-year term to serve as the chief law enforcement officer for the county. According to the NC Sheriff's Association, three major areas of responsiblity for the Office of the Sheriff include:

  • law enforcement
  • court duties to maintain the safety and security of the court, including serving court papers, extraditing prisoners, collecting taxes, enforcing money decrees
  • jail administration, including county jails, detox centers, and community corrections facilities.

The main differences between the police department and the sheriff's office are:

  • jurisdiction - police serve a limited area (municipality, town, village), the sheriff's office serves a whole county. We saw an example of this in Durham around the Confederate statue take-down at the old courthouse: though it happened in downtown Durham, it was on county property, so it was the sheriff's responsibility, not the police department's.
  • a police chief is hired and overseen by the city or town administration, a sheriff is elected by voters and operates outside of city control.

The police department and sheriff's office may communicate and collaborate, especially around law enforcement duties.

photo credit, You Can Vote

A recent Elon University poll revealed that more people in NC can name their sheriff than can name their NCGA legislators. One political commentator reviewed off-year primary turnout records and noted that "in off-year Democratic primaries in rural counties, local races, particularly sheriff’s contests, were driving the electorate more than top-of-the-ticket contests. Race was a driving, if not determining, factor in those elections."

Learn more about NC Sheriffs.
Find your sheriff's office website.
The differences between police, sheriffs, marshals, rangers, and troopers.

Find out if there's a primary/May 8 sheriff's election in your county by going to Vote411, entering your address, then clicking "on your ballot" and following prompts. If there is, you'll see links to campaign websites and candidate answers to a number of relevant questions. If you don't see a sheriff's race on your May ballot, that means there's only one candidate per party, so you'll elect a sheriff in November. In some counties, there are two candidates from the same party running in the primary and no candidate from the other party running at all. In those counties, the May primary is in effect the real election.

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