LUMBERTON -- Robeson County is tied with Swain County with the second-lowest percentage in the state in the percentage of registered voters who cast ballots, according to a private group that based a report on the 2000 general election.
Numbers recently released in a report by the Southern Voting Rights Project of the Institute of Southern Studies in Durham show that 45 percent of voters in the two counties turned out for the 2000 general election, which included a presidential race. Scotland County had the lowest voter turnout at 44 percent. The numbers were based on information obtained in the 2000 Census.
Pearlean Revels, director of the Robeson County Board of Elections, says she isn't surprised to hear the percentages. She said she expects the turnout to be a little higher this year because of the local races, including the historically contentious race for the county Sheriff's Office.
"But in other races, it's low," said Revels, who has been director of the county Elections board since 1991. "It's just always that way. Your local races always do better than state and national, and I can't tell you the reason for that in Robeson County."
According to the report, fewer voters tend to come to the polls in poor counties with high numbers of minorities, while wealthy counties with above average numbers of whites generally have the best voter turnouts.
The report examines patterns in the eight counties in the 2000 general election with the highest participation and the eight with the worst turnout.
The "high eight" counties each have a white population higher than the statewide average of 72.1 percent, while six of the "low eight" have black populations greater than the state's 21.6 percent average.
"This is a pretty standard finding," said Thad Beyle, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It's no great surprise."
In Robeson County, the population is 32.8 percent white, 25.1 percent black and 38 percent American Indian. In Swain County, the population is 66.3 percent white, 1.7 percent black and 29 percent American Indian.
Because disenfranchised voters have often been poor and black, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to outlaw such voting obstructions as poll taxes and literacy tests, said Melissa Siebert, director of the voting project.
Five of the eight counties with the lowest turnout -- Scotland, Robeson, Harnett, Cumberland and Edgecombe -- are still covered by the act and have voter turnouts of less than 50 percent.
Siebert said she didn't know what kept voters from the polls these days, though she did say that the voting process was onerous for some people.
"That's something we can't speculate on -- what's keeping folks from voting," Siebert said.
The counties with the lowest turnout are Scotland County with 44 percent, followed by Robeson and Swain with 45 percent. The percentage of blacks in Scotland is 37.3 percent, while it's 25.1 percent in Robeson and 1.7 percent in Swain. The percentage of American Indians is 38 percent in Robeson and 29 percent in Swain.
Davie and Wake counties had the best voter turnout, with 73 percent and 69 percent, respectively. The population of Davie is 90.4 percent white, and Wake's is 72.4 percent, according to 2000 Census figures.
The median income for the top counties is $36,618 compared with the state median of $35,320. The counties with the worst turnout had a median income of $25,981, and the poverty level in each of the counties is higher than the state average of 12.6 percent.
The report is one of several that the voting project plans to issue before the Sept. 10 primary as part of an attempt to raise awareness about voting problems, Siebert said.
The group is recruiting volunteers to monitor polls in five counties during the primary and document voting problems, Siebert said.