Elections board attends state training
by Kellen Short
State Board Chairman Josh Howard urged more than 500 board members and staff from across the state to respect one another and keep their political views out of their elections work, The Associated Press reported.
"The real theme of the conference needs to be 'let's not have any more of our meetings show up on YouTube,'" Howard said.
The comment might have been aimed at Watauga County board members Bill Aceto, Kathleen Campbell and Luke Eggers, who have been thrust into the national spotlight since their controversial Aug. 12 meeting.
At the meeting, the board voted 2-1 to eliminate an early voting site on the ASU campus, combine three Boone precincts into one, accept public comments only in writing and assign new rules to Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges and staff.
Hodges, who also attended the conference, said some people greeted her Wednesday and Thursday saying they recognized her from a YouTube video of the contentious meeting.
"My board was the popular new kids on the block this time," she said.
The conference tackled a range of topics, including the new voter ID law recently approved at the state level that will require voters to present certain forms of photo identification to vote starting in 2016. They also dealt with need-to-know information for this fall's elections, Hodges said.
Media reports indicated the sessions also covered permitted political activities and the open meetings law, which speaks to the requirements for meeting minutes.
The depth and style of those meeting minutes was called into question Monday at the Watauga County board's meeting, after which Eggers was accused of doctoring the minutes to eliminate the complaints of Campbell, the sole Democrat.
Hodges said the staff prepared two versions of the meeting minutes for Aug. 12. The first was a lengthy version, requested by Campbell, that contained her objections verbatim.
The second was a more condensed version that contained concise descriptions of each motion, discussion and vote.
"We had both sets prepared," Hodges said. "We were ready for whatever."
When Eggers requested a draft copy of the minutes last week, he was informed about both versions, Hodges said. He requested the condensed version, which he reviewed and shortened more before presenting them for approval Monday.
Hodges confirmed Eggers did not take the lengthy set and strike through Campbell's complaints, as he has been accused. The lengthy version was not presented to any board members until Campbell asked for it at Monday's meeting, Hodges said.
Eggers said Friday he never saw a copy of the minutes Campbell wanted submitted and felt that the approved minutes were adequate.
"The minutes are to reflect what business was transacted by the board in a concise manner, and I wanted to make sure that the minutes do that, that they reflect accurately what the board did," Eggers said.
Eggers said the board needed to be mindful of the staff's time in compiling minutes. He said, with a laugh, that he didn't think anyone would have a problem finding out exactly what happened at the meeting.
State statute requires that boards keep "full and accurate minutes" of all meetings "so that a person not in attendance would have a reasonable understanding of what transpired."
The meeting minutes have been a point of discussion before across the political spectrum, Hodges said.
"I have seen people on both sides request more information be included on the minutes," he said.
Hodges said the elections staff has not normally gone into as much detail as Campbell requested. But she added that in her 27 years she had never seen a meeting like the one Aug. 12 with so much comment on each topic.
The heated debate continued to draw state and national attention this week, as Watauga County was featured in multiple segments on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, a liberal news commentary broadcast.
The Watauga County Democratic Party announced Friday in an email that it has formed a Voting Rights Task Force, a coalition of local organizations and individuals opposing the "voter suppression."
A website formed by the task force at votingrightsforall.com urges residents to sign a petition and donate to the cause.
Democrats plan to fund campus outreach programs to increase voter registration on campus, educate students on their voting options and stage events to energize students to take action, the site states.
The email, signed by Pam Williamson, also said there is "a team of attorneys working right here in Watauga County dedicated to sniffing out any and all feasible legal actions against both our local and State Board of Elections."
Meanwhile, the state board is set to consider two of the more divisive decisions made in Boone last week.
Campbell submitted an opposing early voting plan last week that proposed to keep the early voting site on the ASU campus.
General Counsel Don Wright said the state board has not yet determined when it will meet to review the two plans Watauga County has offered.
State board staff also is set to consider whether to permit the consolidation of the three Boone precincts, which combined have 9,340 registered voters.
"That matter is before Executive Director Kim Strach, and she has that under review," Wright said, adding that there is no deadline for Strach to complete her review.
The Watauga County Board of Elections is expected to meet next at 5 p.m. Sept. 4.