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Originally published: 2013-05-18 17:28:11
Last modified: 2013-05-18 17:29:16

News analysis: Elections board ripe for change

For the first time in 20 years, the Watauga County Board of Elections is about to undergo a political shift.

With the election of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory last fall, the opportunity arose for a transition to GOP control on the five-member State Board of Elections. The governor will select those state board members, who will then appoint the three members to each county board of elections from nominations made at the local level.

While McCrory isn't required to choose Republicans, governors traditionally pick members of their own party.

Elections Director Jane Hodges said the new members will be appointed June 25 in Raleigh and will be sworn in July 16.

As a result, each county in North Carolina will likely switch from a board with two Democrats and one Republican to two Republicans and one Democrat. The board members -- currently Stella Anderson, Rusty Henson and "Four" Eggers -- serve two-year terms.

The Watauga County Board of Elections is responsible for overseeing fair elections for federal, state and local races, as well as votes on any referenda. Members' duties include training precinct officials, conducting hearings on challenges concerning any election matters, considering petitions, setting the location of polling places, reviewing absentee ballots, overseeing campaign finance and considering new voter registrations.

Hodges said the board typically meets once a month for about an hour.

"They are appointed by their political parties, but it is a very nonpartisan position," Hodges said. "Once they are appointed, then their hat has to change from really political to nonpartisan."

With the change fast approaching, the chairwomen of the Watauga County Republican and Democratic parties say they are already busy considering nominees.

Anne-Marie Yates, chairwoman of the Watauga County Republican Party, said there has been "lots and lots of interest" in serving on the local board.

"We have not made nominations, but we are looking at names," she said.

Yates said she's excited that Republicans will now have a majority of seats on the board, but she was tight-lipped about what changes the party might initiate once it takes control of the Board of Elections.

"That's something that we're still talking about," Yates said.

The location of polling places has been often debated over the years, and some Republicans have suggested removing the ASU Plemmons Student Union as a polling place.

Diane Tilson, chairwoman of the Watauga County Democratic Party, said admitted that it will be "a change" to see Democrats in the minority on the local board. A committee is now working to select an appointee for that minority seat, she said.

She said she anticipates that the new board will make changes, but isn't sure whether that will include altering the location of polling places.

"I think that the location of the current polling places is efficient, and I hope that we're able to maintain them as closely as possible," Tilson said.

She said she also expects the board may respond differently to challenges from the Democratic party on election-related matters such as where campaign signs can be placed, issues with poll workers or other concerns.

"With the political climate, the current political climate in the state, and the number of changes that are happening on both a national and a state and a local level, we anticipate that that's going to be a trend," Tilson said.