By Joe Wiswell
The Watauga County Board of Elections met Wednesday, July 18 to discuss early voting and Watauga county’s response to recent House Bills 325 and 335. These bills require that all early voting sites in a county be open on the same schedule, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. This year early voting will start on Wednesday, October 17, and go until Saturday, November 3 at 1 p.m.
Keeping all six early voting sites open full time from October 17 to November 3 presents a budget problem for the Board of Elections, but Tuesday night the Watauga County Board of Commissioners agreed to extend the budget to keep all early voting sites open. The only downside will be that each voting site will lose 1 worker, which could lead to small delays. If there is further bottlenecking, the county will find additional workers as needed. The motion to approve this plan passed unanimously.
The next item on the agenda was whether to move the New River 3 voting center from Mount Vernon Baptist Church to the National Guard Armory. There was some debate on this motion with board Member Jane Ann Hodges saying that the Armory made sense because it is near a high population density area, near public transportation, and a good building. Board Member Eric Eller responded that the population density argument was overblown, and that moving the center would make people living at the edge of the county drive long distances. Both sides were adamant that no one was seeking to suppress voters.
That item also included a motion to combine precincts Boone 2 and Boone 3, largely to limit the confusion ASU students face in voting. Eller argued that these were already the two largest precincts in the county, but Hodges suggested those numbers might be inflated due to ASU students who register to vote but then move away or become inactive. The vote for this item was two to two, a fail.
A new resolution was proposed at the end of the meeting to move the Boone 2 early voting center from Legends to the popular student union, but the board decided to wait to rule on that until its August meeting. During the public comments section numerous citizens had expressed support for the Student Union as a early voting location, including a representative of the ASU Student Government.