These days Robeson County elections are won or lost in advance of Election Day, and we don’t mean through clever campaigning or a gaffe.
We mean through early voting, which more and more is taking the suspense out of Election Day.
There were plenty of upsets on Tuesday during municipal elections, which was not a good day for incumbents. Some of the bums got thrown out, and others got thrown out who clearly aren’t bums. But what was underlined once again, is that those with powerful-get-out-the-early-vote machines are the ones smiling when all the votes have been counted.
According to the county Board of Elections, almost 1,600 of the 4,915 ballots cast came during early voting, a number that was accomplished even without the satellite sites that are reserved for the May primaries and the General Elections. Overall, almost 26 percent of the county’s 19,135 eligible voters cast ballots, the highest percentage for a municipal election in anyone’s memory.
Most people would conclude that the higher participation rate is good news. We once did as well, convinced that the integrity of any election inched upward with each additional ballot cast.Through the insight offered by recent local elections, we have become convinced otherwise.
The integrity of an election benefits when a ballot is cast eagerly and thoughtfully, and not because a $5 coupon has been dangled in front of someone who is ignorant on the issues and the candidates. The high number of voters Tuesday, relatively speaking, is a direct result of plenty of people being shuttled to the polls who would otherwise sit out.
The extended early voting period just opens the door too wide for low- and no-information voters to be driven to the polls, where a properly cast ballot can be illegally rewarded, making the process more vulnerable to fraud and corruption. It used to be that local haulers had a single day to load up and transport folks to the polls who knew exactly how to vote, typically by just checking the box beside the big-letter D. Now the haulers have more than two weeks to crowd the polls.
The Republicans in the General Assembly during the past session crafted legislation that was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory that will eventually require a voter ID, but we are more excited about the shorter early voting period. Local elections, which so often are decided by a handful of votes, should swing on ideas, and not politically machinery — too often fueled by deep pockets of those with an agenda — that can drive more people to the polls.