LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Election Thursday was unable to agree on the number of sites to be open for early voting for the Nov. 6 General Election, kicking the decision to the state’s newly configured North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.
The two Democrats on the four-member board, Tiffany Peguise-Powers and Larry Townsend, favored opening five satellite sites in addition to the Board of Elections office on Walnut Street near downtown Lumberton, and the Republicans on the board, Daniel Locklear and Steve Stone, favored opening two sites in addition to the elections office. Recent state law added a fourth member to the local elections boards, which had consisted of three members, with the party holding the Governor’s Office having the majority of two members.
Under Peguise-Powers and Townsend’s plan, there would be satellite sites at Maxton, Fairmont, Red Springs, St. Pauls and Pembroke, while Stone and Locklear favored satellite sites only at Pembroke and Fairmont.
The state General Assembly took away local flexibility on hours and days, requiring the satellite sites be open for 13 days — three Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and two Mondays and Tuesdays — and Saturday voting at the elections office only. Subsequent elections would do away with the Saturday hours. The state also requires that any satellite site, once opened, be open for at least 12 hours that day. That is not required of the elections office.
G.L. Pridgen, director of the local Board of Elections, was working to get the information to the state board, which hears cases that are not decided unanimously. Pridgen expressed concerns about the more liberal Democratic plan and the cost locally of paying workers, especially since four or more hours of overtime would be required each day, as well as potential fatigue.
He had not yet crunched the numbers on the cost, but County Manager Ricky Harris said, if asked, he was confident the county could come up with the money to pay the workers.
Joshua Malcolm, a lawyer who works for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, is vice chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, which includes four Democrats, four Republicans and one person who is unaffiliated. He said the state board would meet in Winston-Salem on Aug. 6 and Aug. 7 to make decisions for local elections boards whose plans were not approved unanimously.
He said the state board could adopt one of the plans, or offer its own.
Malcolm, a Democrat, said when the lawmakers were considering the legislation he warned against the “burden” that would be placed on local elections boards, saying one size does not fit all.
“What works in Charlotte doesn’t necessarily work everywhere else,” he said. “County boards need to have the ability to shape the early voting hours that match the voters in their communities.”
Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or [email protected]