Board of Elections quarrels continue
by Kellen Short
The Watauga County Board of Elections met Wednesday to approve minutes, new voter registrations and a list of precinct officials in another contentious meeting.
But what was not on the agenda caused the loudest objections.
Kathleen Campbell, the lone Democrat, questioned why her fellow board members refused a request by Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges to add discussion of the Legends polling place to the meeting agenda.
Hodges asked the board by email Sept. 23 to discuss her preliminary accessibility survey for the building, what actions should be taken for parking lot re-pavement, van accessibility and a campus pathway, and a plan in case of flooding or electrical problems on Election Day.
Campbell's motion to add those topics to the agenda received no second, nor did a motion to call a special meeting next week to discuss the issues. The board voted 2-1 to approve the meeting's agenda as written, with Chairman Luke Eggers and Secretary Bill Aceto in favor.
"I do not understand why you guys cannot see that this is to your best interest to just take care of this," Campbell said, noting that State Elections Director Kim Strach had asked that the board have an emergency plan in place for Legends.
Eggers and Aceto did not say why they did not want those items on the agenda. But Aceto noted that the board does have an emergency plan in case of problems at any of the precincts.
"We do have a backup plan, and that plan is already in place," Aceto said.
In the upcoming municipal election, Hodges said the emergency plan calls for:
- Beech Mountain and Seven Devils voters to move to Valle Crucis Elementary gym;
- Boone 1, Boone 2, Boone 3 and Brushy Fork voters to move to the ASU Convocation Center;
- New River 1, New River 2, New River 3, Blue Ridge and Blowing Rock voters to move to Mount Vernon Baptist Church gym.
Hodges recommended that the board revisit the emergency plan in a future meeting, but no date was set to do so.
She also said Wednesday that the board has not directed her to create a transfer precinct at the Boone 2 polling place, as the elections staff has done before. The transfer precinct allows voters who are registered in another Watauga County precinct to vote there and have their vote counted at that time.
In the absence of a transfer precinct, any voter who shows up at the wrong polling place or has some other voting irregularity may cast a provisional ballot, which is subject to review. If the Board of Elections is able to verify the voter's eligibility, the ballot will be counted later. If they cannot, it will be rejected.
Hodges said reviewing each provisional ballot would take several minutes and said she hoped the board would see fit to add a transfer precinct.
"We're going to have hundreds and hundreds of provisional ballots," Hodges said. "It's going to add hours and hours and hours to my duties from election night until canvass."
After the meeting, Aceto said he was not inclined to add a transfer precinct for the upcoming municipal election, saying he did not see the need, but said he would "keep an open mind."
The board also sustained its earlier disagreements about the meeting minutes. Campbell argued that the Sept. 4 minutes ought to include comments made by Hodges and ASU Student Programs Director Dave Robertson, who recommended that the ASU Student Union be used as a polling place in lieu of Legends.
Eggers said the minutes clearly showed there was dissent on the topic, while Campbell argued that they did not. The minutes were approved 2-1.
The board found its only unanimous vote in approving a list of precinct officials.
A crowd of about 30 people, mostly Democrats, gathered with protest signs at the meeting, leading into an informal question-and-answer session after the meeting adjourned. Eggers left before the questioning started, but Aceto, Campbell and Hodges remained.
Upon questioning by the crowd, Hodges said her office would send out about 7,000 letters this week to notify voters in the Boone 2 and New River 3 precincts of the polling place changes the board made previously. It will cost $3,600 in postage alone to mail the required letters, she said.
She also addressed
concerns about who would make any parking lot improvements required for accessibility at Legends,
saying ASU would bear the costs of any changes.
Hodges said a final accessibility survey still needs to be completed for the site.
Hodges said she felt confident that "these are going to be three of the best board members that's ever been" but said the upcoming election would be a learning experience.
"No offense to them, but they're going to have a lot to learn," Hodges said, adding they will see the pros and cons of every polling place firsthand. "I hope they will come back refreshed, renewed and say, goodness, we need to make changes here."