LUMBERTON — Both Robeson County Democrats and Republicans hope that Sunday voting will increase the number of early voters for the Nov. 6 General election, and if Thursday’s brisk turnout at the polls is any indication, that could happen.
Dock Locklear, director of Robeson County’s Board of Elections, said the early voting period is off to a “good start” on Thursday.
“We were busy all day,” Locklear said of Thursday. “I think we had more voters on the first day this year in Lumberton than we did in 2008.”
Locklear said that 1,010 voters cast their ballots at the Board of Elections Office at 108 W. Elizabethtown Road in Lumberton. Another 500 ballots were cast among the three satellite sites at the Red Springs Community Center on Cross Street on Red Springs, the Pembroke Library on Blaine Street in Pembroke and the Fairmont Fire Hall on South Main Street in Fairmont.
Locklear was reluctant to predict how successful the county’s first time of opening polls on a Sunday will be. Polls will be open at all four voting sites today from 1 to 5 p.m.
“Sunday voting is going to be what it is,” Locklear said. “I have no stats on Sunday voting, except from some nearby counties where it was held in 2008 and did not meet expectations.”
Robeson, Cumberland and Hoke counties are offering Sunday early voting this election. Bladen, Scotland and Columbus counties are not.
Early voting is also called one-stop voting because first-time voters can both register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day. Today is the only Sunday that voting will be allowed in Robeson County for the Nov. 6 General Election..
John McNeill, chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party, said that he believes the Sunday voting will help the county top its 2008 early voting record of 40 percent. He said that the Democrats have “organized efforts” under way to get voters to the polls, but declined to be specific.
‘The Democratic Party wants to encourage everyone to vote at their convenience,” McNeill said.
John Cantey, vice chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, said he supports Sunday voting as long as it is done after church.
“This is a chance to enhance family values and brings churches together,” he said. “Everyone can come together for a single cause.”
Cantey, who is black, said that all church pastors have been asked to express to their congregations the importance of this election in “moving the country forward.”
“Sunday souls to the polls is the saying we have in the African American community,” he said.
Jimmy Gilchrist, president of the Robeson County Black Caucus, said that having the chance to vote on a Sunday is going to go over big in Robeson County.
“I pushed for it. This is something that we need,” Gilchrist said. “We are going to encourage people to get out to the polls.”
McNeill was one of those who pushed the county Board of Elections to allow voters to have a Sunday to cast their ballots. The three-member Board of Elections, including lone GOP member Steve Stone, unanimously approved Sunday voting on Aug. 30.
“But before I did (push for Sunday voting), I looked to make sure it would be cost effective for the county,” McNeill said. “I also called spiritual leaders in the community and they all felt that voting, as one clergyman said, is a sacred obligation … Several also said it would be fitting to have ‘faithful thought’ before voting.”
Robeson County GOP leader Phillip Stephens told The Robesonian that although early, one-stop voting may benefit Democrats more than Republicans, Sunday voting may actually be a “risky proposition” for Robeson County Democrats.
He pointed out that 86 percent of county voters casting ballots in a May referendum voted in favor of Amendment One, which bans any marriage except between one man and one woman, and that voters leaving church on Sunday might be reminded that President Obama and the Democratic platform support gay marriage.
“Considering that Robeson County led the state with 86 percent of its voters voting for the Marriage Amendment, we think having voters doubly reminded to vote their conscience on a Sunday is a good thing,” Stephens said. “With 86 percent voting in favor of the amendment, that obviously shows that this was not a Republican-Democrat issue.”
According to Stephens, the GOP has initiated a campaign through the social media calling for county Republicans and other conservatives to go to the polls on Sunday and vote a straight ticket.
“We’re asking voters to vote their conscience by voting a straight (party) ticket,” Stephens said.
Bo Biggs, a Republican and longtime observer of Robeson County politics, said he thinks it was a risky strategy for Democrats and others supporting the re-election of President Barack Obama to ask the Robeson County Board of Elections to approve Sunday voting. He said the move “might inspire” more conservative voters to come out to the polls on Sunday.
“My personal opinion is that that this is a little over the top for a political strategy,” Biggs said.
Biggs called Sunday voting “tacky” since there is plenty of time for people to vote early without having the polls open on a Sunday.
“Now you have to have poll workers out on a Sunday,” he said. “Also supporters of candidates have to be out at the polls giving their candidate’s card to voters.”