Watauga Elections Board Members Respond To SBOE’s Decision on Early Voting at App

Published Friday, February 12, 2016 at 5:37 pm

By Jesse Wood

Following Wednesday’s unanimous decision by the State Board of Elections to allow early voting on the campus of Appalachian State University for the 2016 primary, High Country Press reached out to the three members of the Watauga County Board of Elections for their thoughts on the decision.

The SBOE nixed the majority Republicans’ one-stop plan that didn’t include an early voting site on the college campus. The Democrat plan included all of the early voting sites in the Republican plan – Watauga County Admin Building in Downtown Boone, Blowing Rock Town Hall, Deep Gap VFD, Meat Camp VFD, Western Watauga Community Center in Sugar Grove – plus a Plemmons Student Union polling site on App State.

While the SBOE didn’t adopt the exact plan the lone Democrat, Stella Anderson, favored, The SBOE crafted a plan that utilized all of the sites mentioned by both parties and one that avoided contradicting Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens, who ruled before 2014 general election that to discourage student voting by eliminating an early voting site on the campus was unconstitutional.

“I truly hope that this means that we are poised to move forward and put this debate behind us,” Anderson said. “I can only be left with the distinct impression that Judge Stephens’ order weighed heavily on the State Board members.”

Local Republican Nancy Owen, the successor to Luke Eggers, who resigned late last year because a relative is currently running for office, said she “respected” the unanimous, bi-partisan decision that was handed down.

“While I might not agree with it, I respect it and I hope that in the future we can compromise and continue to provide fair elections,” Owen said.

Owen stressed that she is not against early voting or voting precincts on college campuses and wanted to see resources spread throughout the county.

“I am not against early voting on college campuses, [but] we have a polling place less than a half mile from the one on campus [at the Watauga County Admin Building],” Owen said. “I live on Beech Mountain. That’s a least a 45-minute drive [to an early voting site near the elections’ office]. Here there are two locations within a half mile.”

Chair Bill Aceto, who is now serving his second term as a Republican board member, also disagreed with the decision by the State Board of Elections. Aceto opted to answer questions via email.

Below are his responses as to what he thought of the decision and whether or not he will support early voting on the college campus in the future:

“I disagree with their decision. There is not a need to have 2 early voting locations less than 1 mile from each other.  The admin building voted over 9,000 voters in 2012 for early voting and with ASU on spring break there is not a need for multiple urban locations for this election.

“The decision was only for early voting. There will still be a voting site located on campus at Legends on Election Day. I will not support an early voting site at the Student Union since it is impossible to establish electioneering buffers and difficult to find if you are not familiar with ASU’s campus. I would consider a early voting site on ASU’s campus in the future but still feel strongly the admin building is more than adequate to handle the early voting needs of our citizens.”

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