It will be be three more days before we know if Noah Woods will begin a seventh term as commissioner of District 4, or if challenger Faline Locklear Dial will pull off what would be one of the bigger political upsets — if not the biggest — in Robeson County in more than a few decades.
Dial on Tuesday picked up seven provisional votes and now trails Woods by two votes, 1,061 to 1,059, which is an infinitesimal fraction of the 2,120 ballots that have been counted. There is a recount on Saturday and the vote totals don’t have to stray much in Dial’s direction for Woods to have been fired by the people he has served for so long.
There are 7,167 registered Democrats in District 4, and 2,006 registered as unaffiliated and therefore eligible to vote in the Democratic primary for District 4 commissioner. That means slightly more than an anemic 23 percent of eligible voters participated in an election that could change how business is conducted on the county Board of Commissioners.
The commissioners establish our tax rate, lead economic development efforts, guide growth through zoning, control local funding for the Public Schools of Robeson County and Robeson Community College and their power grows from there. They have great sway over the day-to-day lives of people who call Robeson County home — arguably more so than the politicians in Raleigh or Washington, D.C.
Yet almost four out of five eligible voters in District 4, given 13 days of early voting at the Board of Elections’ main office, a slightly stricter window at satellite sites in Fairmont, Maxton and Pembroke, and Election Day itself, didn’t bother to take the 10 to 15 minutes to meet the civic obligation of casting a ballot. We have heard ad nauseam the excuse that a single vote doesn’t matter, but as demonstrated yet again in Robeson County, one ballot can decide an election. A single Woods vote for Dial would have the race deadlocked.
Win or lose, Dial deserves a round of applause for running a high-brow campaign and taking to the finish line a six-term county commissioner and board chairman considered by most to be invincible, but who has suffered because of greed that has infected that board. Should the recount not flip the results, Dial becomes the favorite to win in 2018 when — we will make a prediction now — she will not face Woods but the person he anoints to finish his term.
Although the outcome of the District 4 race remains unclear, the fog has lifted on this: Voters in District 4 have sent a resounding message not only to Woods, but to all the sitting commissioners, that they are angered by the almost 2-year-old news that these elected officials have the temerity to honor themselves with the top pay and benefits in the state, doing so in a county where 40 percent of the population is on welfare.
That anger will simmer for a while and then boil again in advance of the 2016 primary. If Woods, a popular politician who is well-liked, affable and capable, is vulnerable to a worthy opponent, then so are all the commissioners, some more than others.