While early voting is a busy proposition during general elections, with one-stop often hosting at a handful of convenient locations in the county just to accommodate the droves of voters, Sampson traditionally does not see a fraction of the turnout for town races, even those with contested seats — this year does not look to bump that trend.
After a week of early voting, just 22 people have casted ballots as part of the 2013 Municipal Election, which has contested races in three of its eight municipalities this year. With a registered voting population of 8,096 in those towns, the county will be lucky to vote around 10 percent overall, Board of Elections officials said.
That would be on par with the 850 total voters who casted ballots — 42 during one-stop voting — during the 2011 Municipal Election, which had contested races in six of the eight towns.
Early voting for the 2013 municipal election began Oct. 17 at the Sampson County Board of Elections, located at 335 County Complex Road, Building D, which serves as the lone one-stop site leading up to Election Day on Nov. 5.
Longtime Board of Elections director and past BOE chairwoman Sylvia Thornton, who is volunteering at the elections office, said just 22 people have early voted thus far, with 18 casting ballots in person at the Board of Elections and another four mailing in their absentee ballots.
“Early voting in municipal elections is terrible, just historically, in Sampson County for the most part,” said Thornton, who also pointed to more uncontested races this year. “There are only three towns out of the eight that even have contested races.”
Roseboro and Garland, as well as Salemburg, have hotly contested races on tap, with a total of 18 people vying for nine open seats. Clinton, Newton Grove, Harrells, Autryville and Turkey all have uncontested races. Of the 22 early votes cast as of Thursday, 14 were from Garland, and there were four ballots each for Clinton and Roseboro.
The Board of Elections will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday leading up to the election, and will be open one additional day, on Saturday, Nov. 2, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is the only Saturday voting provided and there will be no Sunday voting.
Election officials have touted early voting as an opportunity for people to avoid some of the perceived hassles or hustle and bustle that goes hand-in-hand with Election Day voting. However, while early voting for general elections in 2010 and 2012 has accommodated voters in droves, about 34 and 40 percent of the overall turnout respectively, the turnout is not nearly as large for voting in municipal elections, which involve incorporated segments of the county and not the entire population.
“We’re the only one-stop location for all the municipalities,” Ann Knowles, deputy director of county elections, said last week, just prior to one-stop voting commencing. “We do not expect a big rush. That is the reason we’re able to handle (early voting) at the Board of Elections.”
Garland mayor Winifred Murphy is being opposed by current commissioner and mayor pro tem Ralph Smith in the town’s mayoral race. On the board itself, there are six candidates vying for three open seats, with three incumbents, Haywood Johnson (who fulfilled the unexpired term of Coleman Johnson last year), Denise Toler and Michael Toler being joined by challengers Judy C. Smith, S.J. Smith, a longtime commissioner himself, and Carolyn Yolanda Melvin.
The ballot for the Roseboro Board of Commissioners race is just as packed, with six individuals vying for two open seats. Current board members Anthony Bennett and Alice Butler will be joined in the race by Cary Holland, Steven Heath, Barry C. Templin and Laura Nicole Owen Gray.
In Salemburg, the only other municipality with a contested election on the ballot, incumbents Joe Warren and Arnold Page, as well as challengers Johnnie Parker and Dickie Walters, are running for three open seats.
Garland, Roseboro and Salemburg have registered voting populations of 448, 950 and 365, respectively. Other registered voting populations include 150 in Autryville; 5,539 in Clinton; 121 in Harrells; 361 in Newton Grove; and 162 in Turkey. Even the presence of challengers to take on incumbents has not ensured a great deal of voting in the past two municipal elections, in 2009 and 2011.
In 2011, there were several mayoral and town board positions up for grabs, with contested races in six Sampson County towns and 21 total candidates vying for 13 open seats. Among the contested races were those for the mayoral post in Autryville, a City Council seat in Clinton and town board seats in Salemburg, Garland, Harrells and Roseboro.
But that brought just 850 people to the polls, a shade over the 10 percent total population. The percentage is slightly skewed because the City of Clinton is segmented into five districts and not all seats were up for election. Despite that, the percent of the registered voting population eligible to vote in municipal races, is sparse to say the least.
In the 2009 Municipal Election, there were just 459 total voters, 11 of them having casted ballots early.
So, by comparison, the early voting for this election, four years later, has already doubled with still more than a week of one-stop voting to go, but below that of the last municipal election. Thornton said the numbers for early voting were “pitiful.”
“It’s pretty sad,” she remarked.
Election Day voting will be take place from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the main Sampson County Board of Elections building, as well as convenient locations in each municipality.
Those locations will be Autryville Town Hall, 215 S. Gray St., Autryville; Clinton City Hall Auditorium, 221 Lisbon St., Clinton; Garland Town Hall, 190 S. Church Ave., Garland; Harrells Fire Department Training Center, 924 Ward Road, Harrells; Newton Grove Fire Station, 313 W. Weeksdale St., Newton Grove; Roseboro Municipal Building, at 101 W. Pleasant St., Roseboro; Salemburg Municipal Building, 100 Methodist Drive, Salemburg; and Turkey Town Hall, 51 Market St., Turkey.
For more information about early voting or Election Day locations, contact the Sampson County Board of Elections at 910-592-5796.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.