LUMBERTON — A Robeson County commissioner’s attempts over the past two years to relocate the polling site for those who vote at Piney Grove Elementary School won’t succeed in time for the November General Election, according to the chairman of the Board of Elections.
Commissioner David Edge says he doesn’t understand why it is taking so long for the county Board of Elections to find a location to replace Piney Grove Elementary School as a polling place for the Saddletree Precinct. He said he was told by Dock Locklear, the Board of Elections director, and Steve Stone, the lone Republican on the three-member board, that a new site would be in use for the May primary.
“This is one of the first things I tried to get done when I became a commissioner two years ago,” Edge said. “The issue is to get it (voting site) out of the school and put it somewhere else.”
But Joshua Malcolm, chairman of the Elections Board, is determined that that voters in the Nov. 6 General Election will cast their ballots at the same voting sites as they did in the primary election.
Malcom told The Robesonian on Thursday that even if his board approves the consolidation of precincts or creation of new voting sites, any changes made between now and November will not become effective until after this year’s General Election.
“I personally don’t plan to do anything to contribute to the confusion that might occur during a heavy voting year,” Malcolm said. “It has been the consensus of this board, in general conversations, that between this year’s primary and General Election, decisions about consolidating precincts or moving voting sites may be made, but any changes will not become effective until the first election in 2013.”
Malcolm said that at the board’s July 16 meeting four or five voters from the Saddletree community asked that the Piney Grove School voting site be moved to their community center.
“We took no action, but we reassured them that we are vividly aware of their concerns,” Malcolm said. “We have some ideas of what to do, and I anticipate that will happen in the next few months. It just won’t happen by the General Election.”
Stone said that he has been trying to get the board to find a replacement site for the Piney Grove School for a “number of years.” Action could be taken if the board’s chairman would put the issue on a meeting agenda, he said.
“This is one of the most important precincts that we need to change to provide a safer, more convenient and cost-effective voting site,” Stone said. “Piney Grove is an elementary school that has limited parking and is not convenient for voters.
“It’s procrastination. There seems to be resistance to making this change. The can keeps being kicked down the road … . We do have alternatives at Saddletree. We could use the Saddletree Community Building, the Lumbee tribal building, or the Saddletree Volunteer Fire Department.”
Locklear said it has been an ongoing effort by the board to move precinct voting sites out of the schools and into other buildings. The process includes holding a public hearing on the proposed site change, getting pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department, and notifying voters within the precinct 45 days before the next election that their voting site has been changed.
Stone said that the “window of opportunity is closing,” but he believes if Malcolm would immediately call a special meeting to address the Piney School site change, it is still possible that state and federal deadlines could be met to make the change effective by the November elections.
Stone said he is not going to formally request that the chairman to call such a meeting.
Johnnie McLean, deputy director of administration for the state Board of Elections, said Thursday that there is “probably still time” for the voting site change to be made. The key would be ensuring that the 45-day deadline for notifying precinct voters of the site change is met, that the U.S. Justice Department is notified, and that the building chosen as the new site meets all state regulations governing polling sites.
Locklear said that the board has been looking at the Piney Grove situation for about a year.
“It’s the board, not the (board) director, that has the authority to move to establish a new voting site,” Locklear said. “I really don’t care what building is used. My job is to listen to what the board wants done, give them direction, and tell them about any available buildings. They make the decision.”
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.