LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents marked their first-ever chance to vote on a Sunday by mostly doing something else.
The number of votes cast on Sunday — 728 — represent just 16 percent of the total votes cast through five days of early voting. The church crowd, which many anticipated would be heavy, didn’t turn out.
“We were planning for somewhere around 2,500 to 3,000,” said Dock Locklear, director of the board of elections. “We made plans and it just didn’t happen.”
At the end of the day, 464 ballots were marked at the Elections Office in downtown Lumberton, 94 at Fairmont Fire Hall, 92 at Red Springs Community Center and 78 at Pembroke’s Public Library.
“I was hoping for more, but I’m very grateful for the number that voted,” said John McNeill, chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party who had argued before the local Board of Elections in favor of Sunday voting.
As of Monday evening, 4,616 ballots had been cast in Robeson County. Thursday, the first day of early voting, saw the largest turnout with a combined 1,509 votes at the four polling sites; Friday’s total was 1,286. The Board of Elections office was closed on Saturday; 224 votes were cast at the three satellite offices combined that day.
Keeping the four sites open on Sunday cost the county about $1,035, according to Locklear.
“Whether it was worthwhile that day for the poll and campaign workers and the staff, it’s just hard to guess since we don’t have something to compare it to,” said Bo Biggs, a Republican and longtime observer of Robeson County politics who has spoken out against the Sunday vote in the past. “If the numbers were a sufficient amount to be the best use of the staff member’s time, the jury’s still out on that.”
McNeill said the Sunday option is simply a matter of fairness.
“It would be so nice if all the citizens in our county worked nine to five, Monday through Friday, but that is simply not the case,” McNeill said. “We have so many people that are working six to seven days a week and Sunday might be their only free day.”
Joshua Malcom, chairman of the Board of Elections, was the first in the county to cast his ballot on Sunday.
“I’m pleased with the numbers, so I think it went well,” he said. “… I had an opportunity to speak with voters coming out and they were very appreciative of our decision to open the polls on Sundays and that we staggered the hours at polling locations at least two days a week.
“I think with staggering those hours, with opening on Saturday and this one Sunday … I think we struck a balance between accessibility and budget concerns.”
It was the first time that Robeson County voters have had the chance to cast their ballots on a Sunday during the early voting period. It will be the only Sunday during the early voting period, which began Thursday, that ballots can be cast. Early voting, which ends Nov. 3, is also called one-stop voting because first-time voters can both register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day.
Cumberland and Hoke counties also offered Sunday early voting for the Nov. 6 General Election; Bladen, Scotland and Columbus counties did not.
Phillip Stephens, chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party, said that the extra day didn’t lend a clear lead to either of the country’s two major political parties.
“It wasn’t spectacular for Democrats or Republicans,” he said. “So it ends up being pretty much a non-issue. Both sides will probably announce victory, but I think both sides were underwhelmed with the turnout.”
McNeill and Stephens said last week that get-out-the-vote efforts were under way.
“I could see some orchestrated campaigns to get out the vote,” said Steve Stone, the lone GOP member on the three-member Board of Elections, on Sunday. “But I haven’t seen the buses and vans that we heard would be coming.
“A majority of the voters today were families,” Stone said. “I didn’t see any haulers bringing voters here.”
According to Locklear, he was unaware of any church-owned vehicles ushering people to the polls. .
“Churches can only express the importance of going to vote and going to take a stand in the direction that you feel your county should be going,” said John Cantey, vice chairman of the county’s Democratic Party and a proponent of Sunday voting. “Churches cannot use their church buses or their vans to haul people out to the polls.
“The turnout of the church people who came to vote after church, who drove their own selves to the polls, it was very good. We looked at the numbers and the numbers were right in line with what it has been … the numbers were close to being on the average.”
For Mike Mitchell, a member of Sandy Grove Baptist Church in Lumberton, voting on Sunday was convenient and a way to ensure that he doesn’t miss a chance to cast a ballot in the upcoming Nov. 6 election.
“It’s a good deal,” he said. “In 2008 I made it to the polls (on Election Day) with just 20 minutes left before the polls closed. …With my work schedule — I drive a truck for U.S. Food Service — I’m always getting out of work late, and don’t have time to get out and vote.”
Mitchell said that his pastor on Sunday told voters to get out to the polls, but did not offer advice on whom to support.
“He just told us the importance of getting out and voting,” Mitchell said.
Jeanette Rizo, Angel Rizo and Frank McGirt all came from Parkton to vote.
“I love it,” Jeanette Rizo said. “Some of us work all week and with Sunday voting we don’t have to rush from work to vote.”
“No lines. It’s perfect for me,” Angel Rizo said.
Hours for the early voting at the Board of Elections Office will be weekdays 8:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.; 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3.
All three satellite sites will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Satellite hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays; and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and Nov. 3.