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
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.
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,”
“(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
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.
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.