LETTERS / Discriminatory Early Voting Policies Under the Democratic Watauga County Board of Elections

Published Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Dear Editor,  

The 13 August meeting of the new Watauga County Board of Elections (BOE) was contentious, to say the least, and has generated widespread attention and many comments.

One of Nate Di Cola’s comments noted that he and I (Deborah Greene, Nell Adams and William Seymour also attended) met with the BOE under Chairwoman Stella Anderson and were treated respectfully.  We were.  That meeting was in early July, 2012.

However, what we presented should be shared county-wide.  It provided very clear, disturbing evidence of practices that discriminated against and disenfranchised Watauga County’s rural residents. 

I will summarize the data and readers may judge for themselves.  My sources and some calculations are included at the end of this letter.

The worst example arises from the 8 May 2012 primary, which was county-and-state wide.  Much of the plan presented under the new Republican BOE on 13 August applies to the pending municipal elections.   The new BOE did not cover early voting locations for the broader electorate.

In the 8 May 2012 primary, which also included the Marriage Amendment, there were three early voting sites: the Court House, ASU Plemmons Center and the Boone Town Hall.  Following are examples of how this choice of location for early voting polling sites was discriminatory and disenfranchised Watauga voters who do not live in Boone or in the urban precincts within three miles of Boone.

ONE:  Basic data from the 2010 U.S. Census for Watauga County:

Potential voters:

Those 18 years and older in Boone: 16,249

Those 18 years and older in Watauga County: 44,005

Boone residents eligible to register: 36.9%   

QUESTION:  Why were three early voting sites set up for 36.9% of the potential voters and zero set up for the other 63.1%?

TWO:  Data from the 5/8/12 primary results:

Total registered voters in the precincts where early voting sites were set up:  7,359 (Precincts were Boone 1 and 2; New River I)

Total registered voters in Watauga County 41,293

QUESTION:  Why were all three early voting sites located to easily serve 17.8% of all registered voters?

THREE:   More information from the 5/8/12 primary registered voter data:

We need to define the urban/rural split.  Urban precincts are Boone plus precincts three miles or less from Boone.  They are: Boone 1,2,3; New River I, II, III; Brushy Fork.

Rural precincts are all others, which total thirteen.

Urban precincts: 21,232 registered voters, or 51.4% of all registered voters

Rural precincts: 20,061 registered voters, or 48.6% of all registered voters

The inequities were:

  • Urban voters had 12.5 days (the maximum early voting period) of easy access to vote.
  • They could also register easily at a one-stop location, if necessary.
  • Rural voters had one day—Election Day itself—of easy access to vote (their regular Polling place). They could not register on Election Day.
  • Urban voters had 2,675,232 hours of easy access to vote (calculation at end of letter).
  • Rural voters had 260,793 hours of easy access to vote.

STATEMENT:  This is “an opportunity to vote” ratio of 10.3 to 1 in favor of urban voters.

We asked Ms. Anderson’s BOE to consider several changes.  Our major suggestion was: 1) That the BOE move two of the three early voting sites to a central, convenient location within Eastern and Western Watauga County and 2) Select the location within the Boone town limits that is most convenient and accessible and locate the third polling site there.

Ms.  Anderson, Mr. Henson and Ms. Hodges could not refute these statistics and their implications.  Mr. Eggers, Republican member, advised that he was always outvoted when change was suggested.

As noted, we were treated respectfully.  There was spirited give-and-take .  After discussion and an unwillingness to consider changes for the early voting locations, Ms. Anderson’s and Mr. Henson’s conclusion was:  “That’s politics.”

POSTSCRIPT:  In the 2012 November election, one early voting site was opened for three days in Foscoe.  599 votes were cast.  The Democratic BOE had insisted that “folks out in the county” would not use an early voting site.  Could our presentation have had anything to do with opening a site in Foscoe?  I doubt it.  It was tentatively on the agenda before we met.  Could shame have had anything to do with it?  Probably.  Wow!   Three days for rural Wataugans.

OBSERVATION:  This blatant example illustrates a trend in Watauga County.  Both parties increasingly ignore our non-Boone and non-Blowing Rock residents and take their votes for granted.  Where are “folks out in the county” in the political scheme of things?  Do the Democrats debate whether your having to drive fifteen miles to vote early suppresses your opportunity to vote as much as someone’s having to walk ½ mile from campus to the Ag. Center?  Do the Republicans have second thoughts about suppressing  resolutions that addressed rural issues at their March 2013 Convention?  Widely representative politics is dying here.  Rural Wataugans: Take back both parties.

Jean Di Cola

 

CALCULATION:

Urban voters had 2,675,232 hours of easy access to vote.  Total early voting hours plus Election Day hours = 126 hours.  21,232 registered urban voters x 126 hrs. = 2,675,232.

Rural voters had 260,793 hours of easy access to vote.  Easy access consisted of voting at their precinct polling place on Election Day, which was 13 hours.  20,061 registered rural voters x 13 hrs. = 260,793.

SOURCES:

U..S. Census for 2010:  Watauga County Quick Facts From the U.S. Census Bureau and Fact Finder: Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010; 2010 Demographic Profile Data for Watauga County, NC

From Watauga County Board of Elections Staff:

Vote For Marriage.  Summary by Precinct of registered voters, votes cast 8 May (Election Day) and votes cast during the early voting period.

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