As the November election nears, Sampson County party chairmen are compiling a list of precinct judges to operate each polling place — a task that has changed with the GOP taking control at the state level.
For each of the county’s 23 precincts, there must now be two Republican judges, one serving as chief judge, and one Democrat judge. The Sampson County Board of Elections’ three-member board was reorganized last month to reflect a Republican majority, a transition necessitated by the change in state leadership.
As the Board of Elections’ majority — Republican Danny Jackson took the place of Democrat Sylvia Thornton — reflects the party of the seated governor of North Carolina, that GOP majority must also show at the polls across the county and state.
Leading up to every election, the Republican and Democratic party chairmen must compile and submit a list of qualified judges to the Board of Elections, which as the board governing local elections, must approve that list.
That approval process began at the board’s regular meeting this week, with judge names submitted by Republican Party chairman Curtis Barwick unanimously signed off on by the board, including chairman Ted Lockerman and members Jackson and Horace Bass.
Democrat chairman Marcus Bass, who is Horace’s son, was not present at the meeting. The board was expected to accept the lists from each party this week and approve or not approve them next week.
“The statute requires us to meet today and select those individuals to work. That creates a real major problem for us,” said Lockerman. “Technically, we would have taken action next week. We simply have got to have that list next week.”
The board appointed the members Barwick recommended for the precincts.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Barwick. “With us going from one judge to two, it’s been much more difficult to get a second one and get qualified people in. We’re working to try to fill those remaining slots so we do have a full contingent of workers, because you have to have them.”
Barwick said he was waiting for others to call back and Elections director Donna Marshburn said she would work with Barwick to compile names of others who have worked the polls in the past and may be willing to do so again.
“In the event we don’t have people to work at the time the election comes up, the board has the discretion of appointing someone to do these jobs regardless of how they’re registered,” said Lockerman.
Barwick’s proposed list for Republican chief judges and second judges filled nearly every slot, with certain voting precincts left blank. The board members looked over the list and raised no objections to the names submitted by the Republican chairman.
Barwick said he hoped to have the list filled by the continued meeting, and said he was working diligently to find people willing to serve. Lockerman said it would be nice to have a few emergency judges who can be called on if needed.
“It is so helpful to have somebody willing to step in, because things happen,” said Lockerman.
Jackson pointed out about eight empty slots on the Republican precinct judge list. Horace Bass said Marcus Bass was similarly trying to nail down names for each precinct.
“That is a job, I understand that,” Lockerman said. “In my view, (Barwick’s) job is tougher than Marcus’ job because Marcus has always had two there and now he only has to worry about one. To be sure, out of those two, one of them would agree to do it. You (Barwick) have to find a new one who has not been doing it.”
“We continue to work on it,” Barwick said. “Quite a few of these are our regular judges who are moving up and then there are some new folks.”
Jackson said those new judges would not be going in blind. There would be training, the length of which would depend on the judges. For the new ones, they may want to take more than one class to get more comfortable with the process.
“We try to scatter the classes. We tried to have three or four different dates. We had some in the afternoon, we had some at night, we had some on Saturday… ” said Marshburn, noting the multiple dates helps work around their schedule. “And we also find that if you do smaller classes, they are more apt to ask questions.”
Jackson said it is mainly a matter of getting workers confident with operating the ballot machines.
“I hope we can get it to where we can set up a polling place and they can come in like they’re actually voting,” said Marshburn, “so they can get a better idea (how it works).”
The board continued the meeting until 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at which point it is hoped to have a full list of Republican and Democrat precinct judges.
“There are a lot of good prospects out there if we can just convince them to use their talents to help us,” said Lockerman.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.