BOE reconsiders single Boone precinct
by Kellen Short
The Watauga County Board of Elections plans at its Wednesday meeting to withdraw an earlier resolution combining three Boone precincts into one, according to documents provided Friday by Secretary Bill Aceto.
The local board also will consider relocating the Boone 2 polling place from the ASU Plemmons Student Union to Legends, an entertainment venue on Hardin Street at the edge of the campus.
The resolutions are an about-face for the Republican-dominated board, which on Aug. 12 voted 2-1 to combine the Boone precincts into one with roughly 9,340 registered voters. The Agricultural Conference Center between Poplar Grove Road and King Street was to be the only Election Day polling place for the unified precinct.
In the 20 days since, that and other decisions have led to a barrage of complaints and state and national media attention accusing the board of voter suppression.
"The Watauga County Board of Elections is concerned that the misinformation being distributed regarding this recombination of this precinct will result in voter confusion," the new resolution states.
It does not rule out a future recombination, however. The board wishes to "study this matter further and allow for all citizens to have accurate and complete information prior to the recombination of this precinct," the resolution states.
A second resolution suggests that the Boone 2 polling place be moved from the Plemmons Student Union to Legends. It cites concerns about handicap-accessibility, the distance from curbside voting, a shortage of parking and the difficulty of locating the Student Union for those not familiar with the campus, among other concerns.
The resolution states that Disability Rights North Carolina, a Raleigh nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities, wrote the Watauga County elections board twice in 2012 regarding accessibility problems at the Plemmons Student Union.
It says the Legends building, located within "several hundred yards" of the student union, is large enough, has enough parking, is handicap-accessible and is highly visible from the Hardin Street thoroughfare.
Board of Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges also has previously recommended moving the voting place for Boone 2 to Legends, the resolution adds.
Mollie Clawson, president of ASU College Democrats, appeared on The Rachel Maddow
Show last week describing how difficult it would be to get to the Agricultural Conference Center
polling place. The UNC Association of Student Governments, which includes ASU Student Body
President Dylan Russell, also passed a resolution Aug. 23 encouraging the Watauga County board to
overturn its decisions.
"The Watauga County Board of Elections is mindful of the concerns of the student population at Appalachian State University that they would prefer this voting location to be located upon the campus," the resolution states.
Aceto did not elaborate on the resolutions in an email sent Friday evening, and Chairman Luke Eggers did not respond to a telephone message by press time Saturday.
Eggers said in an earlier interview that he was open to changes with the Boone precincts if the unified plan did not function well.
"I'm very reasonable if I see a problem and it needs to be acted upon," he said.
Board member Kathleen Campbell, who has criticized the board's decisions, did not mention in an interview Friday afternoon that she was aware of the proposed resolutions. She could not immediately be reached Saturday.
The original resolution combining the Boone precincts is currently undergoing review by N.C. Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach, who had not issued a decision as of Friday.
The Watauga County Board of Elections will hold its regularly scheduled meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Early voting plan
Another critical disagreement among Watauga County board members -- the county's one-stop early voting plan -- is expected to reach conclusion this week.
The board voted 2-1 Aug. 12 to establish one early voting site this fall at the Watauga County Administration Building, eliminating the early voting site on the ASU campus.
Campbell, the sole Democrat, submitted an alternate plan that asks for both early voting sites to operate in the November municipal elections.
Watauga County Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges said Friday the ASU early voting site has been used since 2008. Before that date, only the Agricultural Conference Center was used, she said.
The State Board of Elections will meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Raleigh to consider Watauga County's opposing plans, and General Counsel Don Wright said he expects a decision then.
"Since 2000, since I've been here, the boards have always made their decisions immediately after having these types of hearings," he said. "If they don't, I would be very, very surprised."
Fliers have been circulating in the community urging residents to attend the Raleigh meeting.
"Some folks from Watauga tell us to expect three busloads of people ... but we haven't heard any confirmation," Wright said.
He said the room will have nearly 100 seats available, and the board has contingency plans if hundreds show up. He urged anyone planning on attending to contact the N.C. State Board of Elections at (919) 733-7173 so they can properly plan.
Wright said State Board Chairman Josh Howard will decide whether to hear from the public during the meeting but said those who speak on behalf of a larger group have a better chance of being heard.
Campbell said she believes she will be given time to speak and answer questions
and has been preparing to do so.
She said she thought the local board's actions were part of a larger scheme to take over states for Republicans and prevent them from losing future elections. She said the only logical explanation to the local decisions was that they want Democrats to have a harder time voting.
"I think there's a lot at stake beyond a little municipal election in Boone, N.C.," she said.