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From left, Dinia Wheeler, Janice Carroll, Board of Elections Chairman Luke Eggers, Dewey Tester and J.E. Greene oversee the hand-to-eye ballot audit Thursday. Final election results will be available after the canvass Tuesday.


Originally published: 2013-11-07 18:53:27
Last modified: 2013-11-07 21:23:04

Youth key in Democrats' success

The Watauga County Democratic Party attributes its success in the Nov. 5 Boone municipal election in part to aggressive voter registration and engagement efforts and an active youth team.

Democrat Andy Ball won the Boone mayoral race in a landslide versus three other candidates, while Boone Town Council members-elect Rennie Brantz, Jennifer Pena and Quint David -- two Democrats and a progressive independent -- also won by significant margins over their conservative opponents, according to unofficial results.

"I think we can attribute this election to the massive success of the youth team of the Democratic Party," said Jesse Presnell, third vice chair of the county Dems, noting that seven young people worked with the party as interns or volunteer staff members during the election season. "I also think we really, really worked hard walking and talking to voters."

According to data provided by the Watauga County Board of Elections, 1,251 people registered to vote in the town of Boone from July 1 to Nov. 5. A significant majority of the people added to the voter rolls listed Appalachian State University residence halls or post office boxes as their physical and mailing addresses.

"We can account for about 1,000 of those new registrations that we turned in ourselves," Presnell said. "We had a field director on campus out there every day trying to get as many people to register to vote as possible." Presnell said the party's team also worked to ensure the registration forms were filled out correctly.

Presnell said the county party also knocked on 3,000 doors in town and made 8,000 phone call attempts, speaking with 5,000 people by phone.

Watauga County Board of Elections data show that 12,557 people were registered to vote in Boone as of Nov. 5. Of those, 3,533 (28 percent) are registered Democrats, 2,938 (23 percent) are registered Republicans, 219 (2 percent) are registered Libertarians and 5,867 (47 percent) are registered unaffiliated.

County election staff said more information will be available about voter turnout in this year's municipal election after the Board of Election's canvass Nov. 12.

Election verification steps underway

Elections staff gathered Thursday for the required hand-to-eye audit, a step intended to verify whether the ballot boxes functioned properly.

The state selected the Beech Mountain and Blue Ridge precincts for hand-counting in Watauga County, Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges said.

As a result, poll workers J.E. Greene, Dewey Tester, Janice Carroll and Dinia Wheeler -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- counted by hand the results for those precincts. Board of Elections members Luke Eggers and Kathleen Campbell watched over the process.

The group found that their hand counts corresponded correctly to the machine's counts.

John Welch's service questioned

The same questions being asked of Boone Town Council member Rennie Brantz earlier this week are now being asked of county Commissioner John Welch, another Democrat.

On Sunday, "A Watauga Conservative" blog questioned whether Brantz had adhered to a UNC system policy defining the terms under which certain university employees may seek elected office.

The policy states that certain employees who seek office for which compensation is "more than nominal" must either resign, take a leave of absence or demonstrate by petition that the elected position would not interfere with their university duties.

Under the policy, positions with nominal compensation are presumed not to create conflicts of time or interest that would require resignation or a leave of absence.

University officials do not believe Brantz's annual town council salary of $6,251 is "more than nominal," ASU spokesman Hank Foreman said, and therefore did not require him to file a petition.
Welch said he received a public records request Thursday from Watauga County Republican Party Chairwoman Anne-Marie Yates requesting similar documentation and any petition he had filed.

The UNC system policy states that it applies only to EPA employees, meaning exempt from the State Personnel Act, such as professors and administrators. The ASU Human Resources Department confirmed Thursday that Welch is an SPA employee, or subject to the state personnel act, which is not bound by the UNC-system policy.

"In reading the policy, I don't think it covers me," Welch said.

ASU spokesman Hank Foreman could not be reached by presstime Thursday to confirm whether campus leaders agreed with Welch's understanding.

Welch, equipment manager in the ASU athletic department, was elected to the board of education in 2010 and to the board of commissioners in 2012.

He said he was not aware of the UNC system policy at the time, but did seek out permission before running for school board. He said he could not remember whether he did so in person or in writing, but said his candidacy was no surprise to his superiors.

He said he also sought permission before his board of commissioners run.

"I did go up the chain of command to run last January before I even filed, so it's not like I just did it off the cuff," Welch said, adding that the chain of command rose all the way to Chancellor Kenneth Peacock.

He added that he had turned over his emails to university counsel to fulfill the records request, along with notice of his annual board of commissioners compensation: $9,639, according to the county.

"It's really disheartening that we're dealing with this and not real policy issues," Welch said.

Blowing Rock council terms misreported

All three candidates elected to the Blowing Rock Town Council will serve four-year terms, contrary to what has been reported since July.

Due to inaccurate information from the Watauga County Board of Elections, the Watauga Democrat incorrectly reported that the top two winners would receive four-year terms, while the third successful finisher would earn a two-year term.

But the Blowing Rock Town Charter states that anyone elected to the town council is entitled a four-year term.

Hodges, the elections director, said Thursday that the issue resulted from mere confusion.
Election winners Doug Matheson, Sue Sweeting and Ray Pickett will start four-year terms next month.