ELIZABETHTOWN — The voters in the Elizabethtown 1 and 2 gave a resounding “No” vote to the idea of combining the two polling locations into one mega-precinct on Monday night.
The board of elections members Al Daniels, J. Brian Hehl, Bobby Ludlum, and Board of Elections Director Cynthia Shaw and Deputy Director Marsha White were all present to hear the voters concerns. The meeting was held at the Bladen County Public Library.
Ludlum, the Board of Elections chairman, told a crowd of about 75 people that the board was discussing the possibility of reducing he number of polling places in Elizabethtown the current two down to one. He said the same plan is being explored for the polling locations in Bladenboro 1 and 2.
“The purpose of this meeting is to address a proposal from our July meeting to combine Elizabethtown 1 and 2 and Bladenboro 1 and 2 into one precinct each,” said Ludlum.
He told the crowd that one of the benefits is saving money, it will be more efficient and eliminate confusion.
“One Stop voting is very popular with the voters,” said Ludlum.
He said the amount of traffic on the general election is decreasing while the demand for early voting is increasing.
Ludlum one problem that the elections staff is seeing on election day is confusion.
“People are used to early voting and they can vote at any election site. Come election day, they think it is the same thing,” said Ludlum.
He told those gathered that when the happens, the poll workers have to stop what they are doing, get the voter’s identification, contact the board of elections office and try to determine where the voter’s correct precinct is located. Ludlum said this process takes time and the voters sometimes become irate and leave.
Board of Elections member Daniels told those gathered he did not have the experience working the polls as his fellow board members so he appreciated the feedback from the voters.
Bladen County Democratic Party Chairman Zane Singletary addressed the board first and told them he was opposed to the idea for several reasons.
“It’s not prudent to make a mega-precinct. A mega precinct is going to be fair to our voters,” said Singletary.
William Hemphill, a former Democratic Party chairman, also said he was opposed.
“I’m listening to what you are saying on the board,” said Hemphill.
He told the board that the cause for the confusion on election day is because of the fact the voters have not been properly educated.
Vince Snyder a retired attorney also told the board he was opposed to the idea as well. He told the board he had studied the general statute that addresses the issue and had asked if the combining was permanent to which Ludlum said yes.
Snyder also how people who show up on election to find their former polling location closed will know where they are supposed to go to vote.
Ludlum said, “We have to advertise that extensively.”
Rev. Carl Smith addressed the board. He too told the board there was a need to educate the public about the polling locations and the differences between election day and Early Voting.
Bladenboro Mayor Rufus Duckworth also spoke to the board.
“People don’t want to change their voting place,” said Duckworth.
He added, “This is going on statewide and there is underlying reason for it.”
The question was also raised about whether or not other counties had done this and what the outcome was.
“I don’t know how many counties have done this,” said Shaw.
She added this is one of the things the board members are exploring. Shaw said she learned of the idea of mega-precincts while recently attending a conference.
The board will take of the comments into considereation and will now hold another hearing in Bladenboro on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Bladenboro Historical Building. After the meeting Thursday, the board make its recommendation in about two weeks and that recommendation will be sent to the State Board of Elections in Raleigh fo rthier approval, according to Ludlum.
—Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.