LUMBERTON — Robeson County’s tradition of being one of the state’s worse counties at getting registered voters to the polls on Election Day is continuing, according to Democracy North Carolina, a non-partisan organization that follows state voting trends.
Democracy North Carolina reports that Robeson County’s 57.6 percent voter turnout for the general election in November ranked 98th out of the state’s 100 counties. Only two counties, Swain, with a voter turnout of 57.2 percent, and Onslow, with a voter turnout of 53 percent, had more modest turnouts.
Robeson County’s voter turnout for the November election also was well below that of the state average of 68.3 percent.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, told The Robesonian that there are no real surprises in the voter turnout rankings. Counties such as Onslow, which has a military population that is always on the move, and rural counties, where populations are scattered, are more likely to have lower voter turnouts than counties where populations are more stable and centered around more developed areas.
Phillip Stephens and John McNeill, chairmen of the Robeson County Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, said getting voters to the polls in rural counties is much more of a challenge than in metropolitan areas.
“It is much easier to get voters to the polls in metro areas where there is a larger concentration of people than in rural areas,” Stephens said. “It’s difficult to compare what drives the voting efforts in metropolitan and rural areas. The models are different.”
McNeill told The Robesonian he was “disappointed” in the county’s voter turnout in November, especially considering it was a presidential election year and there had been beefed-up efforts by both Democrats and Republicans to get voters to the polls.
“There was probably more effort to get out the vote this (past) year than ever before,” McNeill said. “There was especially an increased effort to get out the vote in the rural precincts.”
Although the voter turnouts for Robeson County’s black and white populations were 65.9 percent and 61.7 percent, respectively, the county’s American Indian population only turned out 48.5 percent of its registered voters at the polls, according to Democracy North Carolina. Some political observers said they were surprised at such a low American Indian turnout, as there was a hotly contested race for a district judge’s seat between Rodney Oxendine, a Lumbee Indian, and Judith Daniels, who is black. Daniels won re-election in that race.
Stephens, however, said he was not surprised by the low turnout of American Indian voters.
“In all the years I’ve been in politics, a judicial race has never driven voters to the polls,” he said. “It’s just not a force that drives races.”
Except for the presidential race and race for governor, the pickings were slim in Robeson County. At the county level there was only one contested race for county commissioner and one contested race for judge. There were contested races for state senator, one state House representative and U.S. House representatives for Districts 7 and 8.