There was nothing eye-opening about a recent report by Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, that found that Robeson County was third worst out of the state’s 100 counties in getting folks to the polls for the recent General Election.
According to the report, just 57.6 percent of Robeson County’s registered voters cast ballots in the election, dropping us to 98th place; only Swain County at 57.2 percent and Onslow County at 53 percent should be more embarrassed.
In North Carolina, a rather healthy percentage of eligible voters, 68.3, cast ballots on Nov. 6, far above the national turnout of about 59 percent.
There is plenty conspiring against a vigorous voter turnout in Robeson County: We are the largest county in the state, remarkably rural, and getting to the voting booth requires a bit of an inconvenience and cost for many residents; our county is disproportionately poor and undereducated, and people who fall into either or both categories are less likely to vote; the pickings in November were pretty slim, at least locally, with a majority of the more important races having been decided during the May primary; and there is the general tendency among our population to be distrustful and cynical of government, believing that a single vote will not provoke meaningful change, so why bother?
But much of that is kicked aside by early voting — which should be called no more excuses — that provided voting opportunities for two and a half weeks at the Elections Office in downtown Lumberton and three satellite sites, in Fairmont, Red Springs and Pembroke. There was also a determined get-out-the-vote effort locally, especially among black leaders tasked with the re-election of President Obama.
Perhaps the biggest suppressor of the vote in November was apathy among American Indians, who make up 40 percent of the county and only turned out at 48.5 percent, helping to flunk the entire class. Robeson County’s blacks voted at a laudable 65.9 percent rate and 61.7 percent of whites cast ballots.
The irony is that Robeson County is becoming increasingly dependent on government as the loss of jobs and the absence of any new ones has pushed too many people onto food stamps, Medicaid, and unemployment and into subsidized housing. But when it comes to electing people that will ensure and administer those critical programs in Robeson County, too many of us watch from the sidelines.
It’s been said often that people get the government they deserve; in Robeson County, that certainly appears to be the case.