Too early to call city’s mayor race

If a Democrat operative promises to deliver Democratic votes in a Democratic precinct, don’t be impressed. The same is true if a Republican operative promises Republican votes in a Republican precinct. Very little is verifiable.

Some voters willingly admit they promise haulers they won’t go to the polls until their “hauler” takes them. So while some voters may need a ride to the polls and some haulers provide a good service, there is a chasm of room for minor abuse to major fraud.

The point is how hard can it be to claim to generate votes in regions as described above? There is too much left to chance. Now if a Democrat operative produces votes for a Democrat in a Republican precinct or vice versa, then be impressed.

Candidates should only agree to pay for get-out-the-vote efforts after an election and then only after it has been demonstrated the operative actually did increase voter turnout for the candidate. The concerning issue is how many voters have side deals or may be intimidated as was revealed during testimony in previous investigations into county voter fraud.

Voting irregularities were investigated in a 2007 Lumberton City Council race and a 2013 Pembroke municipal race. The transcripts of testimony are interesting reading.

Municipal elections are where questionable voter hauling practices can actually have the most influence over an election. It is also one reason why investigators will reportedly be watching closely again this year.

In November, Lumberton will have its next municipal election. The mayor’s race is the one to watch as it is heavily contested to see who will replace Mayor Ray Pennington, the longest serving mayor in Robeson County.

Here is the race by the numbers:

Exactly 13,104 voters are registered in Lumberton. In 2013, only 1,392 voted. That’s 11 percent. In 2011, only 1,586 voted, so that’s a trend. The mayor’s race is non-partisan so party affiliation breakdown is irrelevant.

Demographically, white voters constitute 44 percent of city voter registration. African-Americans come in next at 39 percent followed by Native Americans at 12 percent. But that’s not how they vote. In 2013, 54 percent of the city vote came from African-Americans compared with 38 percent white and 6 percent Native American.

African-Americans do a great job mobilizing at 16 points higher than the white demographic though the African-American registration rate is 5 points lower than the white demographic. Native American participation actually does pretty fair percentage wise despite numbers well below the other two.

It’s been years since the mayor’s race has been contested this heavily. Pennington has served as mayor for over two decades.

As Don Metzger and John Cantey are currently seated on the City Council, it seems they are regarded with front-runner status. Bruce Davis is attempting a return to the council after winning his first council seat by 34 votes in 1977 against James Bracey.

Cantey has been opposed his past two elections to council. In 2009, he garnered 60 percent of the vote against Patricia McRae. In 2013, he topped 60 percent again against Paul Matthews.

Both Ray Pennington and Don Metzger ran unopposed in their last election, both receiving over 96 percent of the vote in their races.

It will be an interesting contest. Cantey will have to pull off decent percentages citywide. Winning by 20 to 30 percent in a council race is fine. But he needs higher support even in his own precinct to mitigate opposition citywide. But it’s doable.

Don Metzger has a similar challenge. He has broad support but must increase the turnout of his base supporters. He needs about 65 percent from Precinct No. 1 alone, which is also doable.

Davis is the wild card as he is re-entering politics and demographics have shifted since his last council race, making it more difficult to analyze.

These numbers assume equal turnout citywide, which rarely happens and turnout has historically been too low to make future projections easier. It’s simply too early to call.

Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.

Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.