LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Elections can’t agree on a new plan for early voting ahead of the November election, so the state Board of Elections will have to decide which of two proposals will be implemented.
The three-member board’s plans must be submitted to the state Board of Elections by Thursday, the state board’s deadline for counties to submit new early voting plans now that a federal appeals court has struck down a 2013 election law that reduced the early voting period from 17 to 10 days and required voters to present a photo ID at the polls.
The Republican-backed 2013 law required county boards to offer as many early voting hours as they did in 2012, but the court ruling threw out that mandate. County elections boards must now determine what hours polls will be open, but have to offer 17 days of early voting as previously required.
Judges who struck down the law on July 29 say it targeted blacks “with almost surgical precision.” In recent North Carolina elections, the majority of black voters took advantage of early voting, particularly through church-based “souls to the polls” initiatives on the Sunday before Election Day.
According to Steve Stone, the GOP chairman of the Robeson County Board of Elections, he and Democrat Tiffany Peguise-Powers favor having six early voting sites, including the state-required site at the Board of Elections office in Lumberton and five satellite sites — Pembroke, Red Springs, Fairmont, Maxton and St. Pauls. During the early voting period for the March primary, there were polls only in Lumberton, Pembroke, Fairmont and Maxton.
In that plan, Stone said, people could vote the Sunday before the Nov. 8 General Election and, as required by the state, polls at Board of Elections office would be open every day of the 17-day voting period.
“We have the money available to cover the cost of opening five satellite sites,” Stone said. “But we don’t have enough staff, so we will have to hire and provide training for additional part-time people to operate the sites.”
Stone said that Daniel Locklear, a second Republican on the board, is submitting a second plan to the state that calls for four polling sites — the elections office, St. Pauls, Pembroke and Fairmont, with Maxton and Red Springs being left out.
“Daniel is looking at doing a couple of towns less,” Stone said. “He has some good reasons for not doing five towns.”
Stone said that during a public hearing Thursday several county residents gave their opinions on polling site locations and the amount of time they felt the sites should be open.
“There was no opposition to the addition of the two polling sites,” he said. “Some folks actually wanted more sites.”
Stone said that plans for early voting could change again if U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts decides to stay the decision, meaning it would not take effect before the November election. Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, has asked the Supreme Court to restore parts of the election law requiring voter ID, reducing early voting days to 10 and prohibiting teenagers from being pre-registered to vote before they turn 18. Roberts has asked to hear from those who sued to overturn the law by Thursday.
“This situation is very fluid,” Stone said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.