Pembroke voters try again on Tuesday

By Bob Shiles

March 9, 2014

LUMBERTON — There were no voting irregularities reported during the early voting period for Tuesday’s do-over Pembroke Town Council election, according to Robeson County elections officials.

G.L. Pridgen, the newly appointed director of the county’s Board of Elections, said that as of late Friday 364 of Pembroke’s 2,619 eligible registered voters had taken advantage of early voting, casting their ballots at the Pembroke Public Library. This compares with a total of 621 Pembroke voters who voted in the November 2013 General Election, Pridgen said.

Early voting ended on Saturday.

According to Pridgen, he thinks the voter turnout may have been even higher if it were not for the cold and wet weather that has plagued the area since early voting began on Feb. 27.

“We’ve had some really nasty weather,” Pridgen said Friday. “But tomorrow and Tuesday the weather is supposed to be nicer. I think more voters will come out tomorrow, the last day of early voting, and on Tuesday.”

Election officials have been keeping a close eye on early voting, which was a major factor in the state Board of Elections deciding to call for a new Pembroke Town Council election. The state Board of Elections ordered the new council election following a hearing in Raleigh during which a number of voting irregularities were found in the November General Election. The board held the hearing after allegations of fraud during early voting, specifically people voting out of district, were raised.

The new election will affect three council seats, two of which are four-year terms, and one unexpired two-year term. November results appear to have given one four-year seat to high-vote getter Channing Jones, a challenger, while incumbent Allen Dial, who was seeking his fifth term, and challenger Teresa Locklear tied for the second four-year seat. Dial won the seat by the draw of a card before the do-over election was ordered.

In the race for the remainder of the two years on the term of Robert Williamson, who died in early 2012 shortly after taking office, Mitch Lowry appeared to win election by four votes over former Pembroke Councilman Larry McNeill.

Pridgen said that to avoid voter irregularities that occurred during the early voting period for the past General Election, poll workers are making sure that everyone who votes is registered properly and is eligible to vote in Pembroke town elections.

“We went over a lot of things during recent training for poll workers,” he said. “As a result of things that happened last year, workers are probably being more cautious.”

Don Wright, the general counsel for the state Board of Elections, told The Robesonian that state elections officials have been assisting the county as it moves through the elections process.

“We have been working with Robeson County, as we do with all counties,” he said. “As in any case where there is a new election or regular election, there is an open line of communications between state staff and the county Board of Elections.”

Steve Stone, chairman of the Robeson County Board of Elections, said that the Pembroke election is significant because it is following election laws that became effective Jan 1. The biggest changes from the November election is that the early one-stop voting period has been reduced to just 10 days, and voters are not permitted to register and vote on the same day during the early voting period. Voters are also being informed at the polls on how to get a state-approved ID that will be needed to vote beginning in 2016.

“Now that same-day registration and voting are no longer allowed by law, there will no longer be some of the concerns and voting irregularities that we have had in the past,” Stone said. “… I’m satisfied that we will get a competent, fair and accurate election for the people of Pembroke.”

Voters on Tuesday can cast their ballots at the Pembroke Middle School on Deep Branch Road from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. All eligible voters can participate in the election, not just those who voted in November.