The Rockingham County Board of Elections voted three to two Wednesday to keep conservative activist Joseph Gibson III on the primary ballot running for a North Carolina State House seat. This comes after his candidacy was challenged by the county Republican Party chair, alleging that he wasn’t able to run for office due to past felony charges in another state. WFDD's David Ford was in Rockingham County for the hearing. 

Who is Joseph Gibson III and what are the challenges against him?

Gibson is a conservative activist who is hoping to unseat his local Rockingham County Republican state Representative Reece Pyrtle. Gibson moved to North Carolina from Connecticut. There, beginning in 1991 when he was a teenager, he was convicted and served time for a series of felonies including robbery and gun violations. In North Carolina he’s also been charged with roughly a dozen misdemeanors. Gibson's challenge is that Rockingham County Republican Party chair Diane Parnell filed a complaint with the county elections board to have him removed from the ballot based on his criminal record, and her belief that Gibson has yet to prove that he's regained the right to vote following those felony convictions. Last week the board voted in favor of Parnell after Gibson did not appear at the hearing. But he appealed to the State Board of Elections who ordered the re-do.

What exactly happened at the BOE today, and what was the scene there like?

The scene at the Commissioners Chamber at the Rockingham County Governmental Center began in a fairly tense way as Gibson did not show up at the agreed upon start time of 9 a.m. An election worker contacted him by phone, Gibson said he would arrive at 9:20 a.m., and a recess was called. He arrived at 9:20 a.m. The onus was on him to provide proof as the candidate to show that he had been granted a restoration of his voting rights in Connecticut. He did not provide a restoration of citizenship notice but simply said he had done his time.

"There's no process to restore my rights," says Gibson. "There's no way to prove it. It's the law in Connecticut and North Carolina. So, I don't know how I can prove to anyone that my rights have been restored. It's automatic according to the state law." 
It soon became clear that the unconditional discharge, unconditional pardon or any other clear evidence of rights being restored would not be presented at the hearing. The Connecticut and North Carolina statutes presented in court seemed to indicate that once the probation period was served — Gibson’s was completed in 2008 in Rockingham County — rights are restored. Board members verified that Gibson had in fact voted in 2022.

What's at stake here?

Politically not much is at stake. Gibson ran in the 2022 primary before his felony convictions came to light, and got just 20% of the vote to Pyrtle's 80%. But the situation is complicated — the hearing went on for more than 3 hours — and it involves a mix of big issues: civil rights issues like voting rights, and in the case of Gibson, first amendment rights issues as well.

What about reports that Gibson is a white supremacist and extremist?

Even though his views had little to do with today’s hearing, his stance on these issues was kind of the 600-pound gorilla in the room. The American Anti-defamation League describes Gibson as a white supremacist and anti-government extremist. The ADL Center on Extremism found Gibson’s extremist ties during last year’s primaries after the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM) promoted his candidacy on their Telegram channel. Researchers have also found Gibson’s posts of white supremacist content. And according to the ADL, his podcast has been simulcast on the neo-Nazi Socialist Movement’s Media Network.




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