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Originally published: 2012-11-05 10:23:24
Last modified: 2012-11-05 10:27:22

State elections board takes no action on Watauga early voting

by Anna Oakes

Despite being asked to overrule a Watauga County Board of Elections vote denying extended early voting hours last week, the State Board of Elections took no action on the local board’s decision before early voting ended Saturday.

On Oct. 30, the three-member Watauga County Board of Elections voted 2-1 in favor of a motion by board Chairwoman Stella Anderson to extend early voting hours at two locations because of last week’s snowstorm, with board member Stacy “Four” Eggers IV voting against the motion. The motion failed because state law required a unanimous vote for changes to be enacted.

If approved, the hours would have been extended at Appalachian State University’s Plemmons Student Union until 7 p.m. (instead of 5 p.m.) Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and at the Watauga County Courthouse until 7 p.m. Nov. 1 and 2 and until 3 p.m. Nov. 3 (instead of 1 p.m.).

“I made the motion to extend the hours for some of the remaining days of early voting in light of the significant downturn in voter turnout on Monday and Tuesday,” Anderson said.

“(Board member) Rusty (Henson) and I felt that there was a significant downturn in expected numbers of early voters at both the courthouse and the ASU early voting locations on Monday and most certainly on Tuesday. In fact, the courthouse was closed on Tuesday until 10 a.m., which definitely restricted the hours of operation at that location,” she added.

Anderson said the board could manage additional expenditures for the extended hours and that Elections Director Jane Hodges had ensured staff coverage would not be a problem.

“I did not anticipate any dissent on the board for making what was, in my opinion, a reasonable and modest adjustment to the early voting schedule in light of changing circumstances,” she said.

But in an Oct. 31 letter to the State Board of Elections and staff, Eggers said he felt the extended hours were not necessary.

“Four months ago, the Watauga County Board of Elections unanimously approved an assertive early voting implementation plan, which included three early voting sites and generous hours of operation,” Eggers wrote. “In fact, our longest waiting period at any point to date has been less than 15 minutes, and was the result of several fraternities and sororities going to the polls as a group en masse.”

Eggers emphasized that it is not unusual to have snow events in Western North Carolina in October.

“Approximately 25 percent of our registered voters have already taken advantage of our one-stop opportunities, and there remain many opportunities for citizens to do so,” he said.

“In considering our decision to maintain our current hours of operation and voting schedule, it was important to consider the burden such a last-minute change would place on our election workers, the lack of budgeted funding for this change, the difficulty in providing additional notice of the change in hours and the appearance that such a last-minute change would be done to favor one political faction over another.”

On Oct. 23, a memo from State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett said wait times at some early voting sites across the state were as long as two hours. The memo instructed county boards of elections to take “proactive measures” to extend early voting days and times or shift resources if needed.