On Election Day, everyone benefits when there are choices — except the unopposed

It could be that Robeson County residents are blissfully content with their local governments, to include the Board of Commissioners, the Board of Education, and all of the municipal bodies as well.

Of it could be they have no choice.

More evidence arrived on July 21 that local residents simply don’t have much choice. That was the day that the filing period ended for the Nov. 7 municipal elections with a paltry 55 candidates seeking 48 seats. That is about 1.14 candidates for every available seat.

There are zero candidates for the mayor’s seat and four board seats in Orrum, and none as well for a mayor’s seat in Lumber Bridge and two board seats. So a couple of write-in votes will decide who sets the tax rate, and makes key zoning and other decisions that hold heavy sway over the lives of residents of those communities.

But at least they have the excuse of being small communities, which means a shallow pool from which to find folks who are interested in public service.

There is plenty of blame to spread around. In Lumberton in precincts with about 2,500 residents, two councilmen have a free pass to re-election, and there are dozens of other incumbents who are likewise unopposed.

On the flip side, there are races of interest in some municipalities, including for mayor in Red Springs and Fairmont, as well somewhat crowded fields for board seats in those towns and Pembroke and St. Pauls.

So what explains this apathy?

It’s a head-scratcher for us, and it is certainly not confined to municipal boards.

The eight members of the Board of Commissioners have a combined 115 years service on that board, suggesting to us that election time is not much to sweat. They average more than 14 years each on the commission, the equivalent of three and a half terms. This despite the baggage of being the best compensated commissioners in North Carolina, but they do benefit mightily by a $30,000 annual slush fund each possesses to curry favor and win votes.

Dummies they aren’t.

The sworn-in years for Board of Education members aren’t readily available on the system’s website, but several members have decades of experience. The last election — and, we suspect, the next one as well — demonstrated that those are some of the least-secure government seats in the county.

The Lumbee Tribal Government, to its credit and the envy of the rest of us, limits its elected official to consecutive three-year terms, but what happens is that often members who are forced off simply go back and get in line for election again three years later.

The Board of Education, with its actions dating back to the summer of 2015 and then more recent, has managed to put itself in the cross-hairs of the public, and we haven’t see public outrage like this since the summer of 2012 when our reporting exposed our county commissioners’ greed when it come to raiding the public coffers. Not much has changed in those five years, except they were forced to drop free health insurance for their family, and one commissioner was defeated, but not the one who was key in building this monument to themselves.

We don’t get many complaints about local boards that are macro, but do occasionally about a single issue when a board has upset a local resident.

We prefer the day that there is more choice on election day, and those choices include people in our communities — and they do exist — who have impressive resumes that show they are well-educated and successful in whatever profession they have chosen.

The next opportunity for that to happen is the May primary.

With elections, we are clearly pro-choice. No one benefits when voters don’t have options on election day, except that unopposed incumbent.