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Originally published: 2013-08-09 18:19:16
Last modified: 2013-08-09 18:20:40

Elections board plans controversial steps

by Kellen Short

The complete Watauga County Board of Elections will meet for the first time Monday -- and the agenda is already causing contention.


Republican Luke Eggers was appointed Wednesday and sworn in Thursday, according to elections staff, joining Republican Bill Aceto and Democrat Kathleen Campbell.


An agenda released Friday states the board will consider a resolution to recombine Boone precincts and adopt a new one-stop implementation plan for 2013 municipal elections.


Anne Marie Yates, chairwoman of the Watauga County Republican Party, said the intention was to switch Boone from three precincts into one, with one voting site.


Those precinct voting sites are currently located at the Watauga County Administration Building, at ASU's Plemmons Student Union and at the Agricultural Conference Center. Yates would not say where the single voting site would be located.


"It will eliminate the expense of running two other polling places and combine it all into one," Yates said. "It's still very convenient for everyone to go and vote. The location has ample parking."


Yates would not elaborate on possible changes to the one-stop plan for this fall's municipal elections.


"That'll all come to light on Monday," she said.


The board also may relocate the Meat Camp and New River 3 polling places, as well as the Seven Devils site, and is expected to consider a resolution establishing a public comment process for the board.


Yates said the board was considering moving the Meat Camp site from Green Valley School to an undisclosed location, the New River 3 site from the National Guard Armory to an undisclosed location, and the Seven Devils site from Foscoe Fire Department to Seven Devils Town Hall.


"I'll let (the board members) tell you what the location is," Yates said regarding the Meat Camp and New River 3 locations. "I don't want to steal their thunder and the reasons for it."


She said the board is trying to keep voting out of the schools because it can be disruptive, referencing a dispute last fall about whether students were allowed in the Green Valley gym during voting.


Deputy election director Donna Houck said Friday that the Republican board members had prepared the agenda and that the office staff had not been provided any further information about the topics.


"Usually we're kind of in-the-know in here, but we don't know this time," Houck said.


Aceto and Eggers could not immediately be reached Friday.


Campbell, the minority board member, said she was not consulted or considered in the setting of the meeting time or the agenda. She said she was worried that the two Republican members already seemed to have planned their actions together outside her presence.


"This resolution to recombine Boone precincts, that could be worrisome if they want to eliminate precincts by combining them," Campbell said.


Democrats already have mobilized against the possibility of changes they say would "repress and restrict individual voter rights," urging concerned residents to wear green to the meeting in a Facebook event post.


"We need to show Republicans that we will not stand by as our rights are trampled!" read an event posting.


Elections board members also are expected to choose officers, adopt a meeting schedule, assign duties to the Board of Elections Director Jane Hodges, approve or deny new voter registrations and conduct other business.


Even the location of the meeting has proven divisive. Originally slated for the county commissioners' board room, a revised meeting notice issued around noon Friday said the location would instead be the Board of Elections office, a smaller space.


Campbell complained about the location in an email to other board members, elections staff and the press, saying she was concerned about the meeting's openness.


"It is clear that the meeting is being moved to prevent and/or restrict full public access to the meeting," she wrote. "In light of the serious issues that this board will address, issues that affect the voting rights of thousands of Watauga County voters, we should welcome, not restrict, public access and transparency."


Yates said she appreciated the two Republican board members stepping up, calling them capable and ready to execute fair elections. At 9 a.m. Monday, a Republican-dominated board will begin conducting business for the first time in 20 years.


"Evidently it's already going to be controversial -- I don't know why," Yates said. "We're just trying to make it fair and easy for everybody to vote."