The commission was legally obligated to appoint another Democrat, but it sent Morrisey a letter last week asking whether it could consider how long an applicant had been registered with the party.
The letter from assistant prosecutor Stephanie Grove noted that candidates are forbidden by law from changing their political affiliation within 60 days of an election. The state Supreme Court has determined that such requirements were created "to avoid party raiding and voter confusion," Grove wrote, "and to maintain the integrity of the political process."
But that statute doesn't address appointments.
Morrisey's response, dated Monday but made public Tuesday morning, said the duration of Ballenger's party affiliation is irrelevant.
The statute "says nothing about qualifications for people seeking appointment to fill a vacancy," Morrisey wrote. "It only speaks to the situation in which a person is seeking election to an office."
Morrisey, a Republican who defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Darrell McGraw in November, said that if the Legislature had intended to address the issue, "then it would have done so."
Because it has not, the 60-day requirement in election law has no bearing on the appointment process, he said.
"The fact that a person has been a member of the Democratic Party for only 22 days prior to applying to fill the sheriff's vacancy is not, standing alone, a reason for disqualification," he said.
Though Ballenger was among the initial applicants, Commission President Dale Manuel said he wasn't among the three finalists, "so it really nullified our reason to ask the question."
After choosing Dougherty, he said, the commission took a second, unanimous vote expressing confidence in him.
Manuel said he wanted an experienced administrator and manager to run the sheriff's department and oversee about two dozen employees. The department already has a competent chief deputy to focus on the police work, Manuel said, but he lives in Berkeley County and was not eligible for the position.