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From left, Board of Elections Secretary Bill Aceto, Chairman Luke Eggers and member Kathleen Campbell interact at the Oct. 3 board meeting. Kellen Short | Watauga Democrat.

Originally published: 2013-10-09 14:25:30
Last modified: 2013-10-10 17:36:07

Democrats seek Aceto, Eggers' ouster

Three local Democrats have asked the State Board of Elections to remove Chairman Luke Eggers and Secretary Bill Aceto from the county elections board based on their actions in the last three months.

The complaint, filed Tuesday afternoon by Stella Anderson, Jesse Presnell and Ian O'Keefe, accuses Eggers and Aceto of "official misconduct, participation in intentional irregularities, unethical actions, and incapacity and incompetency to discharge the duties of their offices."

The document provides numerous reasons the three believe Eggers and Aceto should be removed, along with 21 "exhibits" of additional information. It requests that the State Board of Elections hold a hearing on the complaints.

Don Wright, general counsel for the State Board of Elections, said Wednesday that such requests for removal were "not routine" and did not say whether the board would grant a hearing. Executive Director Kim Strach did not respond to messages by press time Thursday.

Presnell, a political consultant and third vice chairman of the Watauga County Democratic Party, said the group began working on the complaint sometime last week.

"I thought -- maybe rather naively -- that Luke or maybe Bill would kind of try to work with us on making sure that we had student access, that (Elections Director) Jane Ann Hodges felt free to do her job without fear of reprisal, that they would kind of start communicating better with (board member) Kathleen Campbell," Presnell said. "Instead of getting better, which is what we were hoping for it to do, it's actually getting worse."

The nine-page complaint reiterates many of the concerns previously covered in earlier media reports, including: the depth of meeting minutes; disregard for the minority board member, the elections director, and the state board of elections; and the role of Four Eggers, the county attorney, as personal advisor to his brother.

Four Eggers, whose name is mentioned numerous times in the complaint, did not comment about the matter when asked Wednesday.

The complaint also claims that Eggers and Aceto conferred directly or indirectly to make decisions outside open meetings and that they made "arbitrary and capricious choices for the location of polling places."

"The selection of Legends and the Agricultural Center as polling places was not tailored to advance any compelling interest, but instead was chosen for the very purpose of creating barriers to voting, particularly for ASU students," the document states. " ... They were motivated to act on their own will or political agenda rather than being motivated to act in their official capacity to better serve the voting public."

What's new is a claim that Aceto made partisan statements in July to a Boone municipal candidate, saying he and Eggers were "getting ready to take the gloves off," challenging the candidate's ability to get elected.

Neither Presnell nor Anderson would say who the candidate was but hinted that a witness would be willing to attest to the statement in a hearing.

Aceto called the complaint "very partisan" in an email response Thursday.

"A small group of local Democrats are unhappy," he wrote. "The folks I have talked to locally are tired of hearing about the Watauga County Board of Elections in the news."

Eggers said he didn't want to comment much about the complaint "because it's a pretty serious thing."

"I do think that everything the board has done has been legal," he said. "That's my belief and my feelings on it. It is a serious thing, and it's not something to take lightly, so I'll just have to see where it goes from here."

North Carolina statute allows the state board to hear and act on complaints alleging a failure or neglect of a county board to comply with election laws.

"The State Board of Elections shall have power to remove from office any member of a county board of elections for incompetency, neglect or failure to perform duties, fraud, or for any other satisfactory cause," reads N.C.G.S. 163-22. "Before exercising this power, the state board shall notify the county board member affected and give that member an opportunity to be heard. When any county board member shall be removed by the State Board of Elections, the vacancy occurring shall be filled by the State Board of Elections."

The N.C. Administrative Code lays out further steps that must be followed for a hearing, including the calling of witnesses, the presentation of evidence and opportunities for response from the accused.

The petitioners are among the numerous community members who have attended each Board of Elections meeting since August. O'Keefe is an ASU student and Democratic activist, while Anderson is an ASU professor and immediate past member of the Board of Elections.

Anderson said she thought a prompt hearing was unlikely given the rapidly approaching municipal elections.

"I doubt that they would move to commence with any hearing given that it's about the middle of October and they all have the responsibility for getting the election conducted and canvassing of the results," Anderson said.