Council opposes elections board actions
by Kellen Short
The Boone Town Council approved a strongly worded resolution Thursday opposing recent "drastic and harmful alterations to the voting procedures" by the Watauga County Board of Elections.
The Republican-majority elections board approved several measures Aug. 12 that will affect voting as soon as this fall's municipal elections. Among their controversial decisions were the elimination of an early voting site on the ASU campus and the combination of three Boone precincts into one.
The Boone Town Council, composed entirely of Democrats, commented for only seconds Thursday before unanimously approving a more than two-page resolution on the topic.
The resolution expresses "dismay" about the changes, urges the county board to reconsider and voices support for an alternate early voting plan proposed by Kathleen Campbell, the lone Democrat on the Board of Elections.
"I think it's important that we make voting accessible to all," Council member Lynne Mason said.
The resolution specifically claims that elections board members Luke Eggers and Bill Aceto forced through measures that will have a "substantial, negative impact on the citizens of Boone."
It states that the single Election Day voting site for Boone at the Agricultural Conference Center on Poplar Grove Road has inadequate parking and isn't safely accessible for pedestrians. It also claims that the combined Boone "super-precinct," which contains about 9,340 registered voters, will create long waits and will make it impossible for residents to vote before work, during breaks or after work.
The resolution also disagrees with the elections board's decision to relocate the New River III polling place from the National Guard Armory to Mutton Crossing and its decision to accept no verbal comments at its meetings.
"The changes forced through and proposed by a majority of the new members of the Board of Elections serve no legitimate public purpose and appear to be motivated by extreme partisanship and anti-democratic animus despite the fact that Boone municipal elections are nonpartisan," the resolution states.
The resolution incorrectly states that the board proposed only three and a half days of early voting. The Board of Elections plan offers 12 full weekdays of early voting and one Saturday morning.
The Town Council's resolution echoes an Aug. 14 letter to the N.C. Board of Elections from Mayor Loretta Clawson in which she suggested that the town be able to conduct its own elections and bypass the board.
Clawson said in an interview last week that she learned later that statute requires counties to conduct the elections, eliminating that option.
"If it were permitted, I'm sure that we could handle it and handle it well," Clawson said.
While its options may be limited, the Town Council is making sure that its viewpoint is added to the conversation about local voting rights.
"We should be expanding that and not restricting it," Council member Andy Ball said.