LUMBERTON — A state board on Sunday approved the use of five satellite sites in Robeson County for the November General Election, favoring a plan preferred by Democrats on the local Board of Elections.
Joshua Malcolm, a lawyer at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and vice chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, made the motion to adopt the five-site plan, and it was approved in a 7-2 vote.
The Robeson County Board of Elections in July had deadlocked at 2-2 along party lines on two plans that were considered, the one adopted on Sunday and a GOP plan to have two satellite sites open for the election. Because the vote was not unanimous, the decision was kicked to the state board, which on Sunday also made the final call for 14 other counties.
Malcolm, a Democrat, had said previously the state board could adopt either of the two local plans offered, or provide its own.
Under the adopted plan, put forth by Tiffany Peguise-Powers and Larry Townsend, Democrats on the local Elections Board, there will be satellite sites open for the election in Maxton, Fairmont, Pembroke, Red Springs and St. Pauls, as well as early voting at the county elections office on Walnut Street near downtown Lumberton. The Republican plan, put forth by local Elections Board Chairman Steve Stone and Daniel Locklear, would have had satellite sites only in Fairmont and Pembroke.
New state law requires the satellite sites be open 13 days, three Wednesdays, three Thursdays, three Fridays and two Mondays and Tuesdays. Once a satellite site opens, it must be open for 12 straight hours. The elections office, which is not under the 12-hour mandate, will offer Saturday voting on Nov. 3. According to state law, Saturday voting will not be offered beyond November.
“At the hearing on Sunday, my peers on the state board made clear they expected consistency in the locations offered to the voters in Robeson,” Malcolm said. “Accordingly, the state board voted in a bi-partisan manner to keep the same locations used in the primary election.”
G.L. Pridgen, the director of the local elections office, had expressed a concern about the Democratic plan to have five sites open, saying it would be costly because of the amount of overtime required, and that he also worried about fatigue from long hours for poll workers.
The county provides the money to pay the workers, and County Manager Ricky Harris has said that the county will come up with the necessary funding.
Pridgen is a Republican who served previously as a state representative.
Stone also expressed concern about the cost, estimating it could be as much as $100,000 and pointing out that the expenses were not just personnel, but also providing equipment, such as laptops.
“My plan was the best and most fiscally responsible for taxpayers,” Stone said. “I believe six sites is more than necessary to provide adequate opportunity to voters.”
Stone pointed out that the state board on Sunday, most often in a 5-4 vote, favored plans that offered the most sites.
He also expressed disappointment at the General Assembly for having “tied our hands” on what could be offered, taking away the possibility of alternating opening sites among the five locations, which was done in the primary.
He pointed out he had supported additional sites in the primary, but said that was because of the number of races, including some “heated” ones.
Malcolm shared Stone’s sentiment.
“It’s unfortunate the General Assembly took away the authority of the Robeson County Board of Elections to shape the early voting hours to match the voting patterns in our community,” said Malcolm, a former member of the Robeson County Board of Elections. “I remain hopeful the General Assembly will reconsider the burden they put on our election boards across our state through their recently enacted mandate for all one-stop locations to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for all weekdays during the Oct. 17 to Nov. 3 time period.”