One-size-fits-all a poor fit for local elections

G.L Pridgen, the director of the Robeson County Board of Elections until the end of the day Friday, is fixing the cost to the county of early voting for the Nov. 6 general election at $85,000 based on having five satellite sites open in addition to the elections office on Walnut Street near downtown Lumberton. That cost is driven up by a new state law that says once a satellite site is open, it must remain so for 12 straight hours, and that is for each of the 13 days that they will be open, another mandate from Raleigh.

That is not a lot of money in a $150 million county budget, but let’s say a more modest approach — the one put forth by Republicans on the Robeson County Board of Elections for two satellite sites and the elections office — were used, which we believe would put the cost closer to around $40,000. That frees up $45,000 or so in one of the most cash-strapped counties in North Carolina that could then be used for other needs.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement on Sunday picked the five-site plan between the two that the local Elections Board considered, but deadlocked on. According to Steve Stone, the chairman of the four-member local board, the state board followed that day’s theme to lean largely toward plans that offered the highest number of sites in the 15 counties that had not picked a plan unanimously.

For some context, Cumberland County, our neighbors to the north, has three times the number of registered voters but will make do with three satellite sites. Robeson is, however, the largest county in the state in terms of square miles.

Tiffany Peguise-Powers and Larry Townsend, the two Democrats on the four-person local elections board, put forth the five-site plan — sites would be in Fairmont, Maxton, Pembroke, Red Springs and St. Pauls — but that was expected as Democrats will always open the door the widest, knowing that those who are more likely not to exercise their duty to vote will darken the ballot for Democrats in larger numbers.

Stone and his fellow Republican on the board, Daniel Locklear, will be accused of wanting to suppress the vote, as if that is even achievable during a time of early voting in one of a dozen or so states without a voter ID law. Stone points out that he favored five sites during the May primary, when there were a number of, to use his words, “heated races,” but the Nov. 6 menu is much less appetizing locally, limited to an interesting district attorney race as well as two for district judge.

Joshua Malcolm, a Pembroke lawyer, Democrat, and vice chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, made the motion to adopt the five-site plan, which was approved in a 7-2 vote. Malcolm said the state has encouraged consistency between the May primary, when five sites were open, and the general election.

Makes sense — except that it doesn’t. In Robeson County, because of the scarcity of Republican candidates, the primary too often serves as the general election. This year’s five-person sheriff’s race that included all Democrats being Exhibit A.

We expect a sluggish turnout in November, when the number of people voting will be a fraction of those who did on May 8, which was disappointingly low given what was at stake. As we have said before, poll workers should bring a good book because busy they won’t be.

The fault for all this is not with the local elections board or with Malcolm, but with the General Assembly, where Republicans didn’t trust local elections board and went for a one-size-fits-all approach. It might sound good in theory, but we will see in late October how clumsy it is.

And unnecessarily expensive.