By Jesse Wood
Oct. 9. 2013. A formal complaint for the removal of two Republican board members from the Watauga County Board of Elections was filed with the State Board of Elections on Tuesday afternoon by three local Democrats: Stella Anderson, Jesse Presnell and Ian O’Keefe.
The complaint, which was obtained from Don Wright, general counsel with the State Board of Elections in a routine public records request, charges Luke Eggers and Bill Aceto with “official misconduct, participation in intentional irregularities, unethical actions, and incapacity and incompetency to discharge the duties of their offices.”
According to N.C. General Statutes 163-22(c) the State Board of Elections has full power and authority to remove from office any member of a county board of elections for “incompetency, neglect or failure to perform duties, fraud or any other satisfactory cause.”
According to the N.C. Administrative Code, any elector may request the removal of local members of county board of elections by filing with the board a written “brief, intelligent statement of facts constituting the official misconduct alleged, with a reference to the date and place of such misconduct.”
In his 13 years with the State Board of Elections, Wright said he has not seen a “complaint being filed under this procedure.”
Anderson, one of the three individuals to sign the complaint, said on Wednesday morning – after High Country Press obtained the complaint from the State Board of Elections – that Eggers and Aceto have “totally disregarded” the nearly three decades of experience and expertise of Watauga County Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges. Anderson was a prior board member on the Watauga County Board of Elections.
“I believe they have acted wrongfully. I believe they have not fulfilled their responsibilities as board members and I believe that they have been complicit in allowing County Attorney Four Eggers to actually run the board, and that is why [I filed the complaint],” Anderson said. “I believe their actions mean that they are disqualified from serving on this board.”
The complaint includes a list of 15 charges and an attached “list of exhibits” that includes newspaper and recorded accounts of prior meetings and actions of board members and others, including County Attorney Four Eggers, who happens to be a prior board member and brother to Luke Eggers. In all, a listing of 21 items are among the exhibits. (See end of article to read entire formal complaint and click on link to read list of exhibits.)
The Republican-majority board has voted to, depending on who you talk to, erase or “condense” meeting minutes. The board initially refused to give Hodges or their Democrat board member Kathleen Campbell agenda/packet information for meetings in advance – something bipartisan members of the State Board of Elections condemned Eggers and Aceto for. Opponents of the Republican board members have also criticized the board for restricting the duties of Hodges and not heeding the advice of the veteran director in the selection of polling precincts that she deemed inferior (i.e., Legends vs. Plemmons Student Union) and not updating a backup plan in case the new polling precinct, Legends on the campus of ASU, floods or loses electricity.
According to ASU officials, Legends has flooded multiple times this year and doesn’t have a backup generator for emergency power. When the State Board of Elections accepted Legends as a new polling place, SBOE Executive Director Kim Strach advised the board to have a plan in place should flooding occur or electricity is lost on Election Day.
Mentioning Strach’s request, Hodges sent out an email to Eggers and the other two board members on Sept. 23 suggesting that the board update an emergency plan in case an emergency happens at Legends on Election Day. Eggers, who is control of the agenda items as chairman of the board, didn’t add the matter to the agenda for the Oct. 2 meeting.
On Wednesday morning, Eggers did not respond to requests for comment. Aceto was reached via email and said he was “unaware of any complaints filed against myself or Eggers to the SBOE.”
“This is the first I have heard of anything,” Aceto said, providing no further comment to other questions.
According to the procedure of charges against local county election officials, if the charges show “prima facie” a violation of election law, a breach of official duty, a participation in intentional irregularities, incapacity or incompetency to discharge the duties of the office, the State Board of Elections will notify those charged and will name a day and place for a hearing.
Phone calls to SBOE Chairman Josh Howard, a Republican, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. SBOE Board Member Joshua Malcolm, a Democrat, said he was aware that the SBOE Executive Director Kim Strach has received the complaint.
Malcolm added that it “would be absolutely inappropriate to provide any comment” at this time.
However, he did say that the State Board of Elections will comply with any statutory requirements in a timely manner.
On Wednesday morning, Watauga Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges said she was also unaware of a complaint filed and declined to comment on the issues until she received and reviewed a copy of the complaint.
“I would assume the petitioners or the state board will be giving me a copy of it,” Hodges said.
However, Hodges did add that she would be “shocked” if the State Board of Elections took any action before the upcoming election because of the workload of carrying out an election and the short time frame existing before Election Day on Nov. 5.
Members of the State Board of Elections already admonished the Watauga County Board of Elections when they spoke before the state board in Raleigh regarding the elimination of an early voting site on Appalachian State University.
“I strongly encourage you to be cordial, cooperative and transparent as you consider making decisions that effect the people,” Malcolm said.
At that same Sept. 3 meeting in Raleigh, Malcolm’s Republican counterpart Howard, referring to the very first meeting with all three new members that made national headlines, said, “You guys need to get along. I saw this on YouTube. This is not how elections in North Carolina need to be run.”
See formal complaint below and click here to see “list of exhibits” - Exhibits SBE Complaint CBE Members Eggers and Aceto.
See prior articles about the Watauga County Board of Elections here.