Local board’s early voting plan needs some tweaking

The four-person Robeson County Board of Elections last week was unable to agree on either of two plans its members came up with for the number of satellite sites that will be used for early voting in November.

Good.

Neither plan is ideal for what promises to be an election with a low turnout as the most interesting local races, for district judge, aren’t exactly the kind that line the folks up at the polls — despite a bit of courtroom drama last week.

The Democrats on the board, Tiffany Peguise-Powers and Larry Townsend, have taken a more-is-better approach, favoring the opening of five satellite sites — Fairmont, Maxton, Pembroke, Red Springs and St. Pauls — in addition to the Board of Elections office near downtown Lumberton.

This plan accommodates all those folks who want to vote, but have trouble finding the 15 minutes that is required to do so during a three-week period. We hope one day to actually meet one of these people.

Because of new legislation requiring any satellite site, once opened, to stay open for 12 hours straight, the Democrats’ plan is costly, requiring a lot of overtime, a bill that will be handed local taxpayers. And while it won’t force a tax increase, any dollar spent here can’t be spent there, so other needs go unmet.

Under this plan, those working the polls would be wise to bring a good book.

The Republicans on the board, Steve Stone and Daniel Locklear, favor a more modest plan, the opening of just two satellite sites, Fairmont and Pembroke, neither of which is convenient to the northern and southwestern ends of the county. The only surprise here is that Republicans are pushing for a heavy turnout in November to gain approval of a voter-ID law, which is on the ballot and polls show is preferred by the majority of voters.

Joshua Malcolm, a Pembroke attorney and former member of the local Board of Elections, is now vice chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, which will field this punt early next month. That nine-member board is tasked with making the decision for local boards that did not unanimously adopt a plan.

Malcolm, when Republicans in the General Assembly were crafting legislation, which will include the elimination of Saturday early voting after November, warned against a one-size-fits-all approach, and argued in favor of local boards having the autonomy to pick plans that best serve the local electorate. Malcolm is likely to be a key player in what ends up being the local plan for Robeson County.

As we indicated, we don’t like either proposal, believing that a hybrid is in order.

The Democratic plan is simply overkill. This county doesn’t need a total of six sites open for early voting during an election that offers as the sexiest ballot local judicial races and a voter-ID referendum, especially considering the requirement that the satellite sites must be open 12 straight hours.

We are curious as well why the Republicans favor satellite sites in Pembroke and Fairmont, which are arguably the easiest drives to the Elections Office near downtown Lumberton. We understand that politics force a Pembroke site, but Fairmont? The plan puts an early vote out of easy reach of those who live in Maxton and St. Pauls as well as their neighbors.

Why not three early satellite sites, with one each in Maxton, St. Pauls and Pembroke, as well as the Elections Office?

We will trust the state board to come up with a plan that is preferable to the ones offered by the local board. But no matter: Anyone who is eligible to do so and is determined will have no trouble casting a ballot before or on Nov. 6 — despite all the noise about how voting needs to be made even easier.