By Jesse Wood
The State Board of Elections is hearing from more than 30 counties, including Watauga County, regarding petitions for early voting plans for the general election.
The SBOE is holding a public meeting in Raleigh (441 N. Harrington Street) at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 8 to hear from each county.
The State Board of Elections adopts early-voting plans whenever a local board of elections isn’t able to come to a bipartisan, unanimous consensus.
In July, the Watauga County Board of Elections failed to do just that as the partisan conflict centered around the one-stop site on the campus of Appalachian State University.
The Republican majority favored an early voting site at Legends, while the Democrat minority favored Plemmons Student Union.
Due to the Fourth Circuit of Appeals ruling that struck down the Voter ID law, the SBOE directed local boards to go back and consider plans that include the hours and sites for the the extra week of early voting, so the Watauga County Board of Elections went back to the drawing board … and came up empty.
The board failed to vote on either a minority or a majority plan because of a lack of a second to either motion. Republican Nancy Owen didn’t second either Republican Bill Aceto’s motion or Democrat Stella Anderson’s motion. This was on Aug. 16.
According to a rolling database with the State Board of Elections on Friday afternoon, a petition by the majority – the Republicans – hasn’t been filed for the upcoming meeting, meanwhile minority member and Democrat Stella Anderson has petitioned the State Board of Elections with her plan.
The liberal Watauga County Voting Rights Task Force issued a press release last week stating that the Republicans, in a calculated maneuver, were attempting to turn the Watauga County Administration Building into the only early voting site in the county for the general election – and thus increase the likelihood of long lines to vote early.
On Aug. 4, less than two weeks before the Republican majority failed to secure a motion on its plan, State Board of Elections Director Kim Strach issued a memo that local elections boards wouldn’t be required to have additional early voting sites in light of the Fourth Circuit of Appeals ruling.
A week after the Watauga County Board of Elections meeting on Aug. 16 whenever no motion was seconded, Aceto wrote to Strach: “Therefore the Watauga County Board of Elections adopted neither a majority or a minority plan for early voting in the upcoming election. As I read the statute governing this election, 163-227.2 in effect at this time means that early voting will occur only at the County Board of Elections office since no early voting plan was adopted for our county.”
Two days prior to Aceto’s Aug. 22 letter to Strach, Watauga County attorney Four Eggers wrote to Watauga County Board of Elections Director Matt Snyder and copied SBOE General Counsel Joshua Lawson and Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque implying that the Watauga County Board of Elections office and the Watauga County Admin Building were one in the same.
According to the Watauga County Voting Rights Task Force, “Then [Aceto] can move all those 150-per-hour voters over to a different building where voters will only have to stand in 4-hour wait-time lines on busy days instead of 11-hour wait lines. And maybe, just maybe, the State Board will consider that some kind of bizarre compromise.”
Eggers, however, told the Watauga Democrat that he was simply offering guidance to Snyder on how the county should proceed if the State Board of Elections doesn’t adopt a plan for Watauga County.
“Eggers said that both parties could agree that it was impossible to have effective voting in the board of elections office. He said that he presented Snyder with the potential option of using the administration building as an alternative should the state board not settle on an alternative plan,” the paper reported on Aug. 26.
Aceto never responded to the Watauga Democrat’s request for comment.
On Aug. 16, SBOE General Counsel Josh Lawson told High Country Press following the Watauga County Board of Elections August meeting where neither motion was seconded that the SBOE would “likely have to do something” soon because early voting is right around the corner.
As for the SBOE meeting on Sept. 8, the SBOE anticipates not holding a public comment section during the meeting because of the time constraints associated with having nearly a few dozen different hearings.
“Due to time constraints and the number of county board members expected to appear, it is anticipated that members of the public will not be recognized for comment. Members of the public who wish to comment should do so using the online comment portal available at goo.gl/BnYOKu no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 5,” the release from the State Board of Election states.
However, the SBOE will recognize the board members, elections directors and their counsel next Monday.
Check out a number of the quoted documents in its entirety below:
Aug. 4: Numbered Memo 2016-11-1
Aug. 22: Four Eggers Memo to Matt Snyder August 33 – Watauga Board of Elections – re 163-227-1.2
Aug. 24: Response to Eggers’ Memo Including Admin Bldg in Local Office 8-24-2016
Aug. 24: 2016-Aceto-to-SBOE-1
Aug. 25: Watauga County Voting Rights Task Force RELEASE
Aug. 26: Eggers responds to Watauga County Voting Rights Task Force
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