With increasing frequency, Robeson County elections are being decided not on Election Day, but in advance of that with the winners being those who are best at “hauling” voters to the polls during early voting.
What is repackaged as “get-out-the-vote” is legal and a service, particularly in rural Robeson County, where so many people are elderly, disabled, or poor and without transportation. Many are minority and tend to vote for Democrats, which is why Democratic leaders defend hauling and Republican leaders are critical, although cautiously so out of worry they will be labeled as racist and trying to depress the vote.
While it’s legal to haul voters to the polls, it’s illegal to reward or coerce them to vote for a certain candidate. Because this county is so poor and undereducated, many among us are vulnerable to that kind of exploitation.
No one seriously argues that the system is wholesome. The real question is: How much is it abused?
Currently there is an investigation in this county of all the municipal elections from November, with a keener eye cast toward Pembroke, where a do-over election was ordered and the results changed significantly. Among the allegations are that haulers brought in people who did not meet residency requirements but were able to cast ballots.
In 2007, a do-over election for a Lumberton council seat yielded dramatically different results from the original vote, during which there were allegations of vote-buying by haulera.
It is no longer rare in this county for write-in candidates to win office. That is how Lumberton Councilman John Cantey, who is renowned for his ability to haul voters, was first elected in 2005. It is a simple formula to follow: Calculate the number of votes needed and then haul that many people plus a few more to the polls. For re-election, rinse and repeat.
While hauling has long been an election fixture in Robeson County, the emergence of early voting — which was rolled back modestly by Republicans last year — has broadened its use, providing haulers the opportunity to turn a single payday into two weeks’ worth.
Well-financed candidates, often incumbents in a position to reward supporters, are better able to pay for hauling efforts, which explains in part why our county commissioners average having served almost three terms each. There is currently a determined hauling effort supported by some commissioners to unseat Commissioner Hubert Sealey, so if you are looking for a measure of its effectiveness, watch the District 2 race on May 6.
We are unaware of anyone ever being charged with election crimes in this county regarding hauling, although the current investigation could change that. That doesn’t suggest that laws are not being broken, but testifies toward the difficultly of prosecuting them.