BLADENBORO — In an almost mirror-image of a meeting in Elizabethtown earlier in the week, folks gathered at the Bladenboro Historical Society Building on Thursday to hear a proposal that would combine the two polling sites in Bladenboro.
Bladenboro currently uses one polling location for municipal elections only the town board made that decision two years ago. For all other elections, the town has two polling locations — Spaulding Monroe Middle School and the Bladenboro Historical Society Building.
Board of Elections Chairman Bobby Ludlum opened the meeting by giving those gathered an overview of the reasons for combining the polling locations. Ludlum said the proposal came up during the board’s July meeting.
He explained that on election day, some voters become confused and arrive at the incorrect polling location. Ludlum said when that happens, a poll worker must take the voter’s information and call the Board of Elections office in Elizabethtown to determine the correct polling location for the voter. He said sometimes the voter becomes upset and it takes time to to redirect the voter to the correct polling location.
Ludlum said the popularity of early voting has also increased in Bladen County. He told the group that about 50 percent of the registered voters in Bladen County are voting early.
The first to speak was Democratic County Chairman Zane Singletary, who also spoke at the in Elizabethtown on Monday.
“I am opposed to any measures that discourage voting,” said Singletary.
Singletary asked the board to be cautious in weighing their decision and to do what is right for residents.
The Rev. Larry Hayes also spoke.
“I’ve heard all kind of things. I just ask that you still consider the Historical Building (as a possible location),” said Hayes.
Bladen County Commissioner Chairman Charles Ray Peterson addressed the board as a Bladenboro voter.
“I would love to see you go to one voting place,” said Peterson.
Jason Britt also spoke in favor of the measure. He told the group he had served in 2013 as a judge at one of the Bladenboro polling locations. Britt said he did not observe any long lines then and did not foresee any long lines if the polling locations are combined.
Berry Lewis, a former school board member, told the board he is in favor of combining the polling locations as well, so long as the polling location is at the Historical Building.
Board of Elections member Jason Hehl gave the early voting totals for Bladenboro in the most recent election. In Bladenboro 1 the Early Voting total was 592 votes and the Election Day total was 297 votes. In Bladenboro 2, there were 598 early votes and the Election Day total was 416 votes.
Members of the Board of Elections then opened the floor to the voters from outside of Bladenboro. Several folks from Elizabethtown chose to address the board a second time regarding the matter.
Bladen County Commissioner Michael Cogdell, also a former school board member, spoke and hammered at the absentee voting.
“Absentee voting is a choice,” said Cogdell. He added that the absentee by mail and One Stop voting should not be correlated to the election day turnout.
Audrey Hehl, who has served as both a chief judge and a polling judge, also spoke.
“Every election day I have to send people on a wild goose chase,” said Hehl.
She said voters will often go to the library to find the polling location closed. Hehl said when that happens the voter will then come to the Elizabethtown 1 polling location and they are not in the poll book there. She said she has to take time to call the Board of the Elections office to find out where the person is supposed to vote.
“I can tell you with certainty, if we move it all to the library, they will know where to go,” said Hehl.
Jane Pait asked the board to clarify exactly when the idea of combining precincts originated. Board of Elections member Al Daniels said that he was sworn in on July 21 and was handed three packages to sign. He said one package contained information regarding combining polling locations in Elizabethtown and Bladenboro.
“We need Bladen County to shine and I want Bladen County to shine. We work hard to make it easy for everyone to vote,” said Shaw.
She added that combining the polling locations in Elizabethtown and Bladenboro is an attempt at making things easier on election day for everyone. Shaw said that a lot of counties are going to super precincts and mega-precincts. She told those gathered that, during a conference she recently attended, the State Board of Elections gave everyone in attendance a time line of when certain things have to be completed if they are considering combining precincts.
Shaw added the idea has been discussed for years.
Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.