Some municipal elections in Robeson County, N.C. had no candidates on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Lumber Bridge and Orrum’s newly-elected mayors were the only write-in candidates on their ballots. According to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, incumbent Mayor William “Skip” Davis of Lumber Bridge won with 18 votes, while incumbent Mayor Wilton Caulder of Orrum won with just two – the only two votes that were cast in person on election day.
Davis has lived in Lumber Bridge since 1989 and served as mayor, unopposed, for 12 years. He owns an automobile repair business. Davis said he believes the small size and elderly population in these towns is what contributes to the lack of political candidates.
G.L. Pridgen, director of Robeson County Board of Elections, laughed and said perhaps nobody wants the job. He said for the past couple of cycles, these two towns have not had anyone run in the election. Although the towns are small — fewer than one hundred people each — he is surprised no one ran.
“It’s advertised nearly enough, and everybody knows every year it’s coming up, and for some reason (in) those two places, people do not take the interest,” Pridgen said. “We run ads in the paper, the newspaper by itself runs it. Everybody knows about it, but I have no idea.”
A write-in has never declined the seat, Pridgen said, so he is unsure what would happen in that situation.
Davis said it is still important to maintain a governing body in these places so they can help move the town forward when the opportunity arrives.
“We’d just like to say that for all the years I’ve served, it’s been a pleasure,” he said. “It has been challenging at times, and even though our town is small, the requirements are quite large in keeping with, you know, the bigger cities and that kind of thing."
Davis said his hope and wish is for more people to move into town and show interest in picking up the reins.
"It might seem that we’re busy doing a lot of stuff that a lot of people don’t know about, but it’s all very important, and somebody needs to do it, and it needs to be continued," he said.
Donnie Douglas, editor of The Robesonian and a 1979 UNC graduate, said the poor voter turnout was due to apathy and a lack of interest.
Only about 27 percent of the people eligible to vote in Robeson County showed up on election day, according to the NC Board of Elections. Douglas said this has become a national trend, in which people don’t show up as vigorously to small elections as they do for statewide or national elections.
“I mean obviously there’s big important issues like health care that affect us, but it almost interests me that the people don’t vote or pay as much attention to the people who set our tax rates or our zoning laws, things that really affect our local ordinances and all that,” Douglas said. “The other thing that’s interesting is, in my twenty years here, many elections have ended tied or (won by) two votes, three votes and, you know, your vote may actually change the outcome of an election.”
He said the lack of civic engagement seems counterintuitive.
“It seems like people would be more interested in voting for local races than they would for national races because it means more in terms of how it affects your life, and it also has more chance of actually affecting an outcome.”
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