LUMBERTON — The director of the Robeson County’s Board of Elections on Wednesday received a vote of “no confidence” from two of his three board members and was also criticized in a letter from the executive director of the State Board of Elections.
Board member Steve Stone said Thursday that he made the motion for a “no confidence” vote on Dock Locklear after reviewing a March 29 letter to Locklear from Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections. The letter chastised Locklear and the local Board of Elections for failure to meet state and federal deadlines for mailing out May 8 primary ballots to voters requesting them.
“My motion was not to fire Dock,” Stone said. “My motion was made to inspire and encourage more teamwork within the Board of Elections.”
Voting with Stone was Lisa Douglas. She could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Joshua Malcolm, the county board’s chairman, voted against Stone’s motion.
“I have confidence in our director,” Malcolm said. “I think he has done an outstanding job.”
Malcolm pointed to the complexity of overseeing the local election process.
“We, like any organization, work through challenges and issues,” he said, specifically noting recent redistricting. “Redistricting is a huge process for any board of elections. Dock and his staff have been responsible for the process and have done a good job.”
Bartlett in his letter to Locklear reprimanded the director and his staff for not meeting state law specifying that a board of elections must provide voters with absentee ballots 60 days prior to the statewide general election in even-numbered years and 50 days prior to the date on which any other election is held. He also cited the county’s failure to meet the requirement of the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act that requires military and citizens living overseas to be provided absentee ballots no later than 45 days before the May 8 primary.
Bartlett also expressed his displeasure with the failure of the local BOE to meet other absentee ballot processing deadlines.
“These failures appear to show a continuous pattern of your office, for which you direct, ignoring the duties and responsibilities that are assigned to you, whether by law or by the policy of the State Board of Elections,” Bartlett said in his letter to Locklear. “… Explain why these ongoing failings should not also result in disciplinary action, including possible termination of your employment.”
As executive director of the State Board of Elections, Bartlett has the authority to impose various disciplinary actions against county board directors, ranging from a five-day suspension with pay, to termination of employment.
Bartlett left a brief voice mail with The Robesonian on Thursday.
“The long and short of it is that Dock Locklear is still the elections director, and we hope there are great elections this season in Robeson County,” he said.
Locklear acknowledged Thursday that he was responsible for the mistake of not meeting the absentee mailing deadline.
“It was my error, he said. “I didn’t follow up in a supervisory capacity to ensure that my staff had the correct date for mailing the ballots … I would give anything for this not to have happened.”
According to Locklear, as soon as it came to his attention that the deadline was missed, he immediately acted to correct the problem.
“We immediately mailed the ballots and followed up to make sure that those requesting ballots received them,” he said. “I took the initiative to track them myself and I requested, and received, from the state board some additional technical training for my staff person responsible for mailing and recording the absentee ballots.”
Locklear said that there were 26 absentee ballots that had not been sent out by the deadline. Of the 26 ballots, he said, 13 were for voters in the military, and 13 were for civilians.
“This is a serious matter,” Locklear said. “I didn’t follow up like I should have. He (Bartlett) got my attention with his letter.”
Stone said Thursday that he has concerns about the county’s ability to effectively carry out the upcoming primary.
“By my motion, I am saying that I don’t feel an election can effectively be carried out unless there are immediate changes and we get our house in order,” he said. “We have to work as a team.”
He also pointed to the need for proper and ongoing training of staff so that all election-related issues can be addressed immediately when they arise.
According to Johnny McLean, deputy director of administration for the State Board of Elections, Robeson County was not the only county to miss the absentee ballot deadline. There were a couple of others, she said, who received a letter from Bartlett concerning failure to meet the deadline.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.