In Robeson County, the highly anticipated sheriff’s race has resulted in the election of Burnis Wilkins. I don’t think many people were surprised by his victory, but the bitterness that surrounded the election were enough to make most people glad that it is over.
A near historic change is coming to the Robeson County commissioners as Faline Locklear Dial becomes only the second woman to serve on the board. I am confident she will add a strong voice and new perspective to the group, and believe that any governing body would be enhanced by the inclusion of an intelligent and well-educated woman like Dial. The incumbents of the board either won their primaries or ran unopposed.
The Board of Education contest resulted in the defeat of the current chair of the board, Peggy Wilkins Chavis, who lost to retired PSRC administrator Linda Emanuel. It surprised me that Mike Smith, Dwayne Smith and Brenda Fairley-Ferebee were all re-elected. Given the number of controversies surrounding the school board, I thought there might be more turnover, especially of long-serving members. But as I look around at the boards of education of all the counties in our region, I see the same pattern — older people who are often long-serving board members and few young people willing to serve.
It reminds me of the advice my father gave me in 1976 as I prepared to vote in my first election. He said always choose candidates who had school-age children for board of education seats, as they would know what was really going on and would never make decisions that would harm children. He also advised me to make certain that county commissioner candidates were longtime residents who owned a good amount of property in the county, as they would be most likely to protect the land from harm and make sure the tax rate was affordable.
Other than Wilkins on the school board, every incumbent who ran for office in Robeson County won despite the near constant complaints about the actions of the boards of commissioners and education. We gripe and complain, but keep re-electing the same people who make us gripe and complain.
Most people don’t even vote, especially in primary elections. When I went to vote on Election Day, I was voter No. 25 at my polling place and my husband was No. 26. A friend went an hour later and was No. 29. I usually vote early, but our local Bladen County Board of Elections made it much more difficult to do so this year.
In Bladen County, 5,858 people voted in the primary out of 22,883 registered voters, or 25.6 percent. The Sheriff’s race drove 29.5 percent of Robeson County voters to cast ballots.
Although Bladen and Robeson counties both had low turnouts, they were still much higher than most surrounding counties. Columbus County had a 16.9 percent turnout, and Scotland County’s was 20.4 percent. The worst was Cumberland County, where only 10.9 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
That is shocking to me. I have never missed a chance to vote in an election. My father was insistent that voting was not only a right but a responsibility. He had little patience for the complaints of people who did not vote, often saying that a trip to the polls was a small price to pay for the right to either complain for four years about the actions of the other side or to make excuses for the actions of your own.
In Robeson County there are lot of allegations that “voters are being hauled and told who to vote for. ” In Bladen County the big complaint is about abuses of the absentee ballot system. But we should all be complaining about the fact that most people don’t vote and do what we can to improve voter turnout.
Voter apathy is a problem, as is the fact that politics has become such a divisive element in our current society. I don’t believe there is a way to have an election that is free of corruption. But I do think there are ways to make the election process more accessible and convenient. In Oregon ballots are mailed to registered voters and must be returned by mail. There are no polling places to staff and maintain, no allegations of voter hauling, and no excuses about a lack of access to voting. Oregon has a much higher percentage of citizens who participate, well over 60 percent.
In our own state and region, participation is usually much higher in the November General Election than the primary. The most watched race will be the congressional District 9 race between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris. I was thrilled with the defeat of incumbent Robert Pittenger by Harris. Although I will never understand how a Christian minister like Harris can so enthusiastically support Donald Trump, Harris has so far been more honest and forthright than Pittenger. Both Harris and McCready have promised to run clean campaigns focused on facts and not personal attacks. Voters will have a clear choice as Harris is an ultra-conservative Republican and McCready is a moderate Democrat.
I hope that every voter will make the effort to learn about candidates for all the local, state, and national races, make an informed decision about who to support, and most importantly vote in November. I am convinced that if every voter were educated about the issues and the candidates and participated, we would be much better off as a county, state, and nation.
Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.