LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Elections on Monday approved two early voting satellite polling sites for the November General Elections after the board’s three members, two Republicans and a Democrat, could not unanimously agree on a third satellite site.
The two satellites sites agreed to unanimously by the board will be in Pembroke, at the public library, and in Fairmont at the senior citizens center. During the 10-day early voting period, which starts on Oct. 23, voters will also be able to cast their ballots at the Elections Board office in Lumberton, which must serve as an early voting site by state law.
Steve Stone, the board’s chairman and a Republican, suggested St. Pauls as a third site, while Tiffany Peguise Powers, the board’s secretary and lone Democrat, campaigned for Red Springs as a third site. Neither site could get the unanimous support of the board. State law requires that selections of early voting sites have the unanimous support of BOE members.
Powers argued that a site in Red Springs would be more accessible to voters in both Maxton and St. Pauls.
“I want to do our best by our voters,” she said.
Stone argued that there should be an early voting site in St. Pauls because there has never been a site there in the past and it would be a good chance to find out how many people will take advantage of early voting if a site is placed nearby.
“They have never had a site there,” said Stone. “Maybe there will be a tremendous voter turnout. We don’t really know.
“I’ve been approached in the past by individuals about having a site in St. Pauls, and I’ve recommended it to the board in the past,” he said. “But before it has never made the cut.”
Stone reminded board members that early, one-stop voting was originally approved in North Carolina as a means of eliminating long lines at the polls on election days.
“It’s not just for the convenience of the voters,” he said. “It’s to make the system run better.”
The board could approve additional satellite polling sites in the future, but the three sites to be used already exceed the 112.25 minimum hours the state is requiring for polling sites in Robeson County to be open. The hours are based on early voting turnout during the 2010 General Election.
The board on Monday also approved the hours polls will be open for the 10-day early voting period.
At the Elections Board office, those hours are 8:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. weekdays, except for the first Thursday and Friday and the second Wednesday and Thursday, when they will close at 7:15 p.m. On the Saturday before the election, polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Polls in Pembroke and Fairmont will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. the first Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the second Thursday and Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. the Saturday before the election.
Powers tried to convince other board members to support Sunday voting hours but was unsuccessful.
Powers said she is considering filing an appeal to the State Board of Elections concerning the early voting site locations and the denial of Sunday voting hours. State law allows her to appeal the polling sites because the selection was not unanimous.
“I am taking it under advisement,” Powers said after the meeting. “If I hear from people that they support another location I might appeal. If I don’t hear from the people, what good would it do?”
John McNeill, the Red Springs mayor and chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party, was the only member of the public who attended Monday’s meeting. He said after the meeting that he would have liked to have seen the board open polling sites in Red Springs and St. Pauls.
“This is too big of a county to just have two (satellite) sites,” McNeill said. “They should have added and split some more hours between St. Pauls and Red Springs.”
The Unified Robeson County Chapter of the NAACP earlier had requested by letter that the board create a “strong” early voting plan that would make voting easily accessible and convenient for all county voters. Stone mentioned the letter during Monday’s meeting.
“The NAACP has asked us for a more comprehensive voting plan,” he said. “They have requested voting hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday voting; and a satellite poll in a rural area of the county and near our community college and university.”