By: Charlotte Smith
The Bladen County Library in Elizabethtown was packed full Monday evening with local voters from all across the county voicing their opinions, with a large majority against the Board of Elections’ proposed plan to consolidate four precincts into two. The proposed plan comes from the Board of Elections board members, Bobby Ludlum, Al Daniels and Brian Hehl, after Cynthia Shaw, Director at Board of Elections, and Marsha White, Assistant Director, did research on super precincts, according to the board members at the first public meeting.
According to The North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting a grassroots non-partisan organization, Super Precincts, Vote Centers or “Mega Precincts” are often defined as a polling place at which any registered voter in the political subdivision holding the election may vote, regardless of the precinct in which the voter lives. The advantage is that there is no wrong place to vote.
The board explained that the plan for consolidation is meant to use the county’s resources wisely and has seen success in other counties. Bobby Ludlum, Board Chair said, “It will save some money, be more efficient and cause less confusion. One thing we’ve seen on Election Day is confusion. Voters come into the wrong place. It has become quite a problem.”
Cynthia Shaw explained, “The mail absentee and early voting have cut down on the turn out on Election Day. These Super precincts are used in other counties and are becoming popular.”
Board member Brian Hehl said, “The money that would be saved is minimal and we would probably spend that money. If we were to do this we would increase the amount of money spent for the amount of workers. The biggest reason is to alleviate headaches for you the voters, and the workers.”
William Hemphill, the former Democratic Chairman echoed Singletary’s statements. He added the plan would only cause more confusion for voters and they would not be properly educated about the changes.
Vince Snyder, a retired attorney voiced his opposition to the plan by stating general statues. Snyder explained the general statues gives the board authority for two different types of plans. One plan is a temporary change and the other is a more permanent plan. Snyder then asked the board if their plan was for the temporary change or the more permanent plan. Board Chair Ludlum said, “Our discussions have been permanent this far.”
Snyder also had concerns about the location of the proposed “Super Precinct”, suggesting the County’s recreation department building would have more square footage than the library offers.
Hehl responded saying the exact locations of the combined precincts had not been finalized because the board wanted to receive the public’s opinion before putting too much time into planning where the precincts would be established.
Bladenboro Mayor Rufus Duckworth spoke about his research on the matter and his objections to the plan. He said, “I did a lot of research. The last couple years this state has been looking to suppress the votes. They have already changed the presidential primary election from May to March. This will only cause more confusion. I have talked with people that don’t want to change where they vote. This is going on state wide and there are underlying reasons for this and I’m calling it like it is and it’s not right. ”
Duckworth asked the board, “If one person is unable to vote because you’ve done this, would it be worth it?”
Bladen County Commissioners Arthur Bullock, Michael Cogdell, and Wayne Edge were present at the meeting as well. Bullock and Cogdell both voiced their opinions against the idea.
According to ncvoter.net, Super Precincts can become a poll-tax for the elderly, disabled, poor and rural voters – because of the additional travel, time, missed work or physical stress of waiting in long lines to vote. Voters can no longer walk or travel a short distance to vote. For disabled, the voting location is no longer in a familiar neighborhood, and may be in a busy crowded facility.
There were at least two voters present that were for the consolidation plan. James and Jane Pait said they have been judges at different polling locations and expressed support for the board and the idea. Jane Pait said, “I think the board does have everyone’s best interest in mind. I think the plan would make the voting process flow a lot better.”
The board reminded the persistent crowd no decision has been made at this point. The vote will be made in about two weeks according to the board’s announcement Monday evening.
Board member Daniels along with several others in the crowd referenced the survey, http://goo.gl/forms/2A2DVPmyx0 on BladenOnline.com and the response it has received. The board said they had reviewed the survey.
If you would like to voice your opinion on the matter, there is one more public meeting scheduled this week in Bladenboro. The Bladenboro special meeting will be held Thursday, October 1, 2015 at the Historical Building, 818 South Main Street beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Take the BladenOnline.com survey about the consolidation plan now by clicking here. Thus far there have been almost 700 responses with 96.2% saying, “No” they are not willing and/or able to drive the extra miles to a single voting location in order to reduce the County’s Election Expenses.
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