The state Board of Elections last week sent a message to Robeson County that not only will it not allow elections here to be hijacked by those who are paid to haul people to the polls, it will demand that allegations of fraud be investigated and criminal charges be brought when appropriate.
It was a good day for this county.
The focus of the state board’s action on Friday was an election in Pembroke for town council, but the problems on Election Day are not unique to that town. That is why is has become common in this county to elect people to office whose names don’t even appear on the ballot, allowing them to escape pre-election scrutiny that would torpedo their campaign.
The state board has ordered a do-over election in Pembroke for early in 2014, and it also ordered that information concerning allegations of fraud be turned over to the local District Attorney’s Office. We are confident the allegations will be investigated aggressively, but mindful of the difficulty of such a probe.
This road was partially traveled in Robeson County during the 2007 municipal election for the Lumberton City Council. At that time, a recount in Precinct 7 showed two candidates were tied and, following allegations of fraud, the state Board of Elections ordered a new election. The new vote ended with the incumbent, Leon Maynor, keeping office easily, evidence that the first vote had been tainted.
What was missing then was an investigation of the allegations of people being paid for their vote.
This newspaper’s contempt for early voting has been well-established on this page. Noble in its purpose, early voting is just too vulnerable to fraud, especially the hauling of out-of-district voters to register and vote on the same day. It is, without injecting hyperbole, a threat to our democracy. Thankfully, the General Assembly this year crafted legislation that was signed into law that will make it more difficult to steal elections.
What must be decided is whether the Pembroke Council vote will be conducted using new election laws that take effect on Jan. 1, including a tighter early voting period and the abolishment of same-day registration and voting, or the laws in effect on Nov. 5. Even if the new laws are not applied, scrutiny will make it more difficult for the haulers to hijack this election, ensuring a more pure outcome.
A warning shot was fired in Raleigh on Friday, but we have no doubt that the same people who have worked to steal elections in the past will continue to do so in the future. For them, Election Day is payday.
New laws will complicate their task, and increased scrutiny will mean a higher risk. The Robeson County tradition of buying votes will no longer be greeted with a wink and a nod.