Elect a better way

November 16, 2013

It would be Robeson County’s dirty little secret, except that it’s not a secret.

Anyone who is minimally conscious is aware that early voting in this county has kicked open a two-and-a-half-week door for the manipulation of elections through get-out-the-vote efforts, especially on the local level, where a few votes actually do matter. Each election, it’s like watching a car wreck in slow motion, powerless to intervene, and wondering how much carnage will be done.

An opportunity now exists for a badly needed shot over the bow of those who orchestrate the manipulation of early voting while also profiting from it. It is, for some, a nice payday.

If you think it doesn’t matter, try again. On Saturday, there were recounts in two races for Pembroke Town Council, one that official results show ended in a tie, and the other that was separated by two votes. As this is being written, we are unsure of the outcome, but are convinced of this — the losers will not go home satisfied, and additional protests, most likely concerning residency of voters who registered and cast ballots on the same day, are likely.

In this county, it is now routine for write-in candidates to win with hundreds of votes. This doesn’t happen organically, but is contrived, and the sneak attack shields the write-in candidate from potentially damaging public scrutiny. All that is required is for the candidate to calculate the necessary number of votes for victory, and then bus in family, friends and low- or no-information voters to properly mark the ballots.

Is this really the way we want to govern?

Help is on the way. The voter ID requirement, which takes effect in 2016, will turn away some who would fraudulently cast a ballot, shorten the early voting period, meaning fewer days of buying votes for coffee and a donut, and end the practice of registering to vote and casting a ballot on the same day.

But in this county right now there is sufficient smoke to warrant a hard look by the District Attorney’s Office, which the local Board of Elections should lobby for an investigation. It is clear to us that there is evidence suggesting organized efforts in the Nov. 5 election by either candidates themselves or their campaigns to haul in out-of-district voters to register and vote on the same day.

More than two dozen of those ballots, which are marked provisional, were tossed out during challenge hearings last week, and you can believe they are a pebble on a beach. Those provisional ballots contain names and other personal information. These people need to be found and asked hard questions.

If laws were broken, the offenders should be prosecuted and properly punished if convicted. There simply has to be a consequence — and integrity must be restored.

The May primary is less than six months aways. If this is allowed to continue unchecked, Nov. 5 will look like a dress rehearsal.