By Jesse Wood
District Court Judge Warren Hughes swore in the newly appointed members of the Watauga County Board of Elections – Republicans Luke Eggers and Bill Aceto and Democrat Stella Anderson – on Tuesday at noon.
After holding their hand to the bible, the members sat down and proceeded on to regular business. This was the first meeting with the new makeup of the board.
Eggers and Aceto are serving consecutive terms and Democrat Kathleen Campbell decided not to serve a second term. Anderson served on the Watauga County Board of Elections in the past, prior to Campbell’s two-year appointment in 2013.
Among agenda items was discussion of early voting for the 2015 municipal elections and the wrinkle caused by the last-minute resignation by Boone Mayor Andy Ball, whose resignation announcement came on Friday at noon, after the candidate filing period closed.
The big news coming out of the meeting was that those who filed to run for the four seats up for election on the Boone Town Council aren’t allowed to withdraw and run for the mayoral seat, according to a “guidance” email from George McCue, agency counsel for the State Board of Elections to the Watauga County Board of Elections.
The withdrawal deadline was July 14, according to Watauga County Elections Director Matt Snyder.
McCue, citing general statutes, was responding to an email from Anderson, which Anderson provided to HCPress.com and read aloud at the meeting.
“Because filing (and the ability to withdraw) has closed, candidates who have filed for other contests during the regular filing period, such as the regularly-scheduled election for Boone City Council, could not withdraw that candidacy and file to run for Mayor,” McCue wrote.
Following the meeting on Tuesday, Snyder spoke with Boone Town Manager John Ward to clarify what exactly was happening. Ward sought clarification so he could advise the Boone Town Council for its Thursday meeting, when the council is expected to select an interim mayor prior to the municipal election in November.
Snyder said that those who filed for the four Boone Town Council seats are eligible to “clarify” whether they are running for the three original seats up for election or the one seat left vacant by resigning Councilwoman Jennifer Pena.
They, however, are not allowed to dropout of that race and file to join Boone’s mayoral race. If this stands, it would mean that former Mayor Loretta Clawson, for example, wouldn’t be allowed enter the mayoral race.
Chair Luke Eggers, a Republican, and Stella Anderson, a Democrat, both agreed with each other that they had issues with that portion of McCue’s determination.
Eggers noted that the folks who filed to run for Boone Town Council – Loretta Clawson, Jeannine Underwood-Collins, Lynne Mason, Charlotte Mizelle, Jennifer Teague and David Welsh – didn’t know when they filed that the mayoral office would be up for election.
“I have an issue with that, too,” Eggers said, after Anderson said she didn’t agree with McCue’s assessment.
After the meeting, Snyder was asked where challenges to this assertion should be directed. Snyder said that he would inquire about that with the State Board of Elections. It would probably come through the county office initially and shoveled to the state level.
After discussing this issue during the meeting, the Watauga County Board of Elections scheduled a special candidate-filing period for the mayoral race for five days – beginning at Thursday, July 23, at noon to Wednesday, July 29, at noon.
By scheduling the filing period to open on Thursday, it gives the public about 48 hours notice.
McCue recommended a five-day filing period. Also on the advice of McCue, the Watauga County Board of Elections also scheduled a five-day special filing period for Pena’s seat – only the seat due to Pena’s vacancy.
See McCue’s entire response at end of article.
Early Voting in Watauga
The other major agenda item was the early voting plans for the municipal elections.
The local elections office and board received notification from the State Board of Elections about setting one-stop implementation plans by July 31.
This wasn’t viewed as a strict deadline. The board expressed befuddlement with regards to setting a one-stop implementation plan for the municipal election on the very first meeting with a new board and without a chance to review particular plans from the board members.
“I don’t think this is reasonable,” Anderson said, adding that the board usually adopts these plans in August or early September.
Eggers presented the 2014 early voting plan and said he would be willing to vote on that if everyone agreed. Anderson, however, didn’t agree to vote on that plan.
Anderson said that she would like staff from the county elections office to reach out to all of the municipalities and see what early voting sites they would like to have. If those municipalities agreed to pay for the one-stop voting sites, then Anderson said there was “no reason” for the Watauga County Board of Elections to not approve those sites.
Eggers or Aceto didn’t offer a response to Anderson’s desire to seek recommendations from the municipalities during the meeting.
After the meeting, Eggers said that the office would certainly take any recommendations from the municipalities but said that there was no reason for the county to reach out to those municipalities regarding one-stop voting.
The board agreed to table endorsing one-stop implementation plans until the next regularly scheduled meeting in August.
McCUE’s RESPONSE To ANDERSON’S EMAIL:
Thank you for the e-mail. You raise legitimate concerns, and I have since had the opportunity to discuss this situation further with other staff including Executive Director Strach.
The issue of needing to separate the unexpired term seat on the Boone City Council from the regularly-scheduled “vote for three” Boone City Council ballot item is an administrative issue not specifically contemplated by statute. For that reason, it was necessarily to attempt to fit this special situation within the framework of the statutes, and again we appreciate thoughts on the matter. Upon further consideration, and in light of the fact that the General Statutes have limited the timeline to withdraw a candidacy, this is our guidance to Watauga County Board of Elections:
Because there was not a noticed opportunity for eligible persons to file for the unexpired term seat on the Boone City Council, the Watauga CBE should provide a filing period of at least five days for that specific contest only. During that special filing period, candidates who had already filed for the regularly-scheduled Boone City Council contest should have the opportunity to clarify the filing that they had already made during the regularly-scheduled filing period. Upon further consideration, we agree that the need to resolve this administrative issue should not allow new candidates to file for the regularly-scheduled Boone City Council contest, nor does it provide special opportunities for candidates to withdraw (other than the fact that a new candidate who files for the unexpired term could withdraw that new candidacy up until three days before the end of this special filing period as set out in GS 163-294.1(d)).
Director Snyder has made me aware that there is a separate issue of the Boone Mayor resigning very recently. This does create a vacancy, and because it has occurred more than 90 days before the next election, there should be a contest scheduled during the upcoming election to fill the unexpired term of mayor pursuant to GS 160A-63. Because the timing of the resignation was after the regularly-scheduled filing period had noticed and began, it will also be necessary for the Watauga CBE to schedule a special filing period for the unexpired term of the mayor. The special filing period for that contest could certainly be held at the same time as the special filing period for the unexpired term seat on the Boone City Council. Because filing (and the ability to withdraw) has closed, candidates who have filed for other contests during the regular filing period, such as the regularly-scheduled election for Boone City Council, could not withdraw that candidacy and file to run for Mayor. (Just wanted to note that distinction, comparing the special filing period for a vacancy versus the special filing period to resolve an administrative issue.)
This e-mail has been blind carbon copied to all Watauga CBE appointees to convey the information to all Board Members in advance of your meeting today, but to make clear that this is not an invitation for Board Members to discuss the matter over e-mail and outside of a public meeting. We will continue to be a resource to Director Snyder and I will give him a call to follow up on this e-mail.
We wish you all the best as the Watauga CBE begins its new term.
North Carolina State Board of Elections