LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Elections on Thursday voted unanimously to open polling sites on a Sunday for the first time, extended early voting hours to more than one Saturday, and reduced hours at satellite voting sites to save on overall election costs.
The early voting period for the Nov. 6 General Election begins Oct. 18 and ends on Nov. 3.
In anticipation of large a large voter turnout for the General Election in November, the three-member board on July 24 approved three satellite polling sites — in Red Springs, Pembroke and Fairmont — to be used for early, one-stop voting. Those sites will be in addition to the Board of Elections Office at 108 W. Elizabethtown Road. State law requires that all county Board of Elections main offices be open for one-stop voting.
The three satellite polling sites will be in the Fairmont Fire Hall on South Main Street; the Pembroke Library on Blaine Street; and the Red Springs Community Center on Cross Street.
As approved by the board, 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; and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21.
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; 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 20, Oct. 27, Nov. 3, all Saturdays; and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21.
Dock Locklear, the board’s director, told The Robesonian that the opening of the four sites on Sunday will cost about an additional $1,035. Joshua Malcom, the board’s chairman, said that the board is trying to “stretch” its financial resources and still offer the greatest flexibility and opportunity for voters to participate in the early voting process.
“My No. 1 priority is to deliver an election where no one questions the integrity of the election,” he said.
Malcolm said that he has authorized Locklear to look at the board’s budget and move money around to appropriate places to allow for the administration of the four early polling sites.
“If more funds are required, I will go to the commissioners,” he said. “I hope they have the same interest we do in giving the most people the chance to participate in early voting.”
Several community leaders, including John McNeill, the county’s Democratic Party leader, John Cantey, vice chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, county Commissioner Hubert Sealey, Jimmy Gilchrist, chairman of the Robeson County Black Caucus, and Renea Stackhouse, president of the Unified Robeson County NAACP, urged Board of Elections officials to provide the extended voting hours.
“We need to increase the number of voters who participate in early voting,” said McNeill, who said that the 60 percent of county voters who voted during the early voting period four years ago was lower than most other counties. “We need to get the participation rate up to 66 or 67 percent.” Steve Stone, the board’s lone Republican, voted in favor of the extended hours after other board members agreed to his request that if the satellite sites were to be open on Oct. 21, the Sunday, the Lumberton site should also be open. Members in every community should have the same opportunity to participate in the early voting process, he said.
Stone in the past has voted against the establishment of any early voting sites, saying he believes early voting in general can encourage voter fraud. He also contends that operating additional polling sites is an expense to the county.
Early voting is also called one-stop voting because first time eligible voters can both register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.