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From left, Watauga County Board of Elections secretary Bill Aceto, Elections Director Jane Hodges and county board member Kathleen Campbell gather for the State Board of Elections meeting on Friday.

Photo by Lonnie Webster

Originally published: 2014-03-25 07:03:44
Last modified: 2014-03-26 12:21:57

NC board upholds early voting plan

by Allison Haver

Early voting will officially not take place on the campus of Appalachian State University during the upcoming primary elections on May 6.

The State Board of Elections, which consists of three Republicans and two Democrats, unanimously voted on Monday to uphold the early voting plan for the May primary, in which the Watauga County Board of Elections passed on March 5.

County board secretary Bill Aceto and county board member and lone democrat Kathleen Campbell appeared before the state board's meeting on Monday to state their cases.

The early-voting plan, submitted by county board secretary Bill Aceto, went before the State Board of Elections on Monday afternoon because it was not unanimously adopted.

"The bi-partisan board unanimously approved and confirmed our initial plan of early voting sites," Aceto said. "I was pleased and excited to be there."

Aceto said the reason behind his proposal was that the five sites he selected are geographically centered throughout the county.

During the county board's February meeting, Campbell presented her own proposal, which included early voting on the campus of Appalachian State University and another site central to Boone.

Campbell said it was her goal to make everyone happy and her reasoning behind her selecting the Watauga County Courthouse, Appalachian State University and Boone Town Council Chambers as early voting sites were due to 62 percent of recent registered voters that lived in eight precincts.

Early voting for the primary will now take place at:

- Watauga County Administration Building in downtown Boone

- Western Watauga Community Center in Sugar Grove

- Blowing Rock Town Hall

- Deep Gap Fire Department

- Meat Camp Fire Department

According to Aceto, the State Board of Elections suggested an amendment to the plan's voting hours, which was unanimously accepted by Campbell and Aceto.

The original plan made it difficult for residents who work full time by having one-stop voting sites would have been open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.

Aceto said the new voting hours will be:

- Thursday and Friday, April 24 to 25, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

- Monday, April 28, to Friday, May 2, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

- Saturday, May 3, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The hours of operation for the Watauga County Administration building on Thursday and Friday, April 24 to 25 will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Campbell, who sent a 30-page document to the state board to advocate for her plan, could not be reached after the meeting.

The document states that the majority plan is in direct violation of state law, two amendments in the state constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Watauga County Democratic Party Chairwomen Diane Tilson said the outcome during the state board meeting on Monday was not surprising.

"I do believe the plan we presented was better thought out," Tilson said.

According to Tilson, the main concern for her is voting accessibility, and the approved voting plan includes one early voting site to serve 60 percent of the county's registered voters, the Watauga County Administration Building. 

"Only having one site to serve those residents is irresponsible," Tilson said. "The approved plan is a fairly effective voter suppressive plan."

This is not the first time the state board has directly dealt with the Watauga County elections board.

Last fall, the State Board of Elections heard a petition after Eggers and Aceto voted to eliminate an early voting site on the college campus for the November general election.

The State Board of Elections, in a four-to-one vote, upheld the decision to eliminate early voting at ASU.

The state board also heard a complaint against county board members Eggers and Aceto at its Dec. 20 meeting.

Democrats Stella Anderson, Ian O'Keefe and Jesse Presnell sent a complaint to the State Board of Elections on Oct. 9 asking that Eggers and Aceto be removed from their posts.

The state board unanimously voted not to proceed to a formal hearing of the complaint.

Early voting starts on April 24. Registration for the primary elections ends on Friday, April 11.

UPDATE: The original story has been updated to include additional information.

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