LUMBERTON — The senior member of Robeson County’s state legislative delegation says that getting permission from the state General Assembly for Lumberton to stop or reduce the time of early voting during city elections will not be easy.
“This will be no slam dunk by any means,” said Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Wagram. “The council voted 5 to 3 in favor of the resolution asking for stopping or limiting early voting, and that concerns me. A split vote indicates dissension among council members and dissension within the community. In Raleigh, they don’t like split votes.”
Pierce said that before moving forward at the state level he wants to discuss the issue with the council, as well as with the other members of the state’s four-member delegation — Sen. Michael Walters and Rep. Charles Graham, both Democrats, and Rep. G.L. Pridgen, a Republican.
“I’d like to find out if there is any way the city’s concerns can be resolved at the local level, without getting the state involved,” Pierce said. “I want to find out if this is in the best interest of all the citizens of Lumberton.”
Pierce said the voting process can be “beautiful” if allowed to work as designed.
“I support the idea of the one-stop, early voting,” he said. “But people should not be intimidated and pulled in a direction to do this or that. Let the people exercise their right to vote.”
According to Pierce, the candidates have to bear much of the responsibility on how their supporters work to get them elected.
“There needs to be a code of ethics, and those working for candidates need to be trained in how to greet the public and how to be an advocate for a candidate,” he said. “Candidates are ultimately responsible for overzealous supporters.”
The Lumberton resolution seeking permission from the General Assembly to limit or have no early voting for municipal elections has been sent to all four Robeson County legislators. The resolution would not affect early voting for county, state or federal elections.
The motion for the resolution was made by Councilman Leon Maynor, who believes that early voting in Lumberton has been abused. Other councilmen voting in favor of the resolution were Don Metzger, Harry Ivey, Robert Jones and Erich Hackney. Councilmen John Robinson, Jackie Taylor and John Cantey voted against the resolution.
Maynor contends that during the two-and-a-half weeks of early voting, residents are harassed by individuals showing up at their doors all hours of the day asking them to vote and telling them for whom to vote.The system also opens the gate for vote buying and voter fraud, accordign to Maynor.
Opponents of the resolution say that limiting early one-stop voting or abolishing it suppress the votes of people who want to vote but may not have transportation on Election Day.
Graham said that he also would like to sit down with City Council members to discuss the issue of early voting.
“They are asking our delegation to support something that would take something away from the citizens of Lumberton that they have a right to,” Graham said. “…This could have some far-reaching effects by allowing others (municipalities) to sign onto the bill. This is a way that others could use to disenfranchise voters.”
For Graham, early voting benefit the state’s elections process.
“I like early voting,” he said. “I think it is good because it offers citizens an opportunity to vote early and not have to stand in long lines on Election Day. It encourages people to get out and vote.”
Like Pierce, Graham said that he would like to see Lumberton’s concerns over the voting process handled at the local, rather than the state level.
“I’m leery to take the rights away from citizens at the state level when concerns (of the council) can be addressed at the local level,” he said.
Rep. Pridgen and Sen. Walters also said they need to review the resolution and discuss with Lumberton City Council members their concerns about the early voting process.
Walters as of Friday morning had not seen a copy of the resolution.
“It’s premature for me to comment,” he said. “I need to review the resolution and evaluate it.”
Walters did say there is “some merit” to shortening the length of time allotted for early voting.
Pridgen said that he is “not wild” about early one-stop voting because the voting period is too long and offers too many opportunities for fraud.
“Early voting should only be for a short period,” he said. “It would save the counties and state money because polls wouldn’t have to be kept open.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.