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Wake County Superior Court Judge Orders Expedited Review of SBOE’s Approval of Local Early-Voting Plan

By Jesse Wood

Oct. 3, 2014. On Friday, Wake Court Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway has ordered the expedited review of the N.C. State Board of Elections’ approval of an early-voting implementation plan for Watauga County that didn’t include a one-stop polling place on the campus of Appalachian State University.

Nearly two weeks ago, local Democrats filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court against the N.C. State Board of Elections on Friday that claims the early voting plan approved by the state board for Watauga County violates the state and federal constitution by discriminating against college-aged voters.

According to the order, attached at bottom of article,  SBOE has until Monday, Oct. 6, to respond and produce the official record of its proceedings. Both sides can submit briefs until Wednesday, Oct. 8. The hearing is set for 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 10.”

In the petition for judicial review, Stella Anderson, Pam Williamson, Marianne Clawson, Alaina Doyle, Lauren Larue Joyner, Ian O’Keefe and David Sabbagh request that the court direct the State Board of Elections adopt a plan that “does not erect unnecessary barriers to voting or otherwise discriminate against voters aged 18-25.”

In July, the Republican majority on the three-member Watauga County Board of Elections – Luke Eggers and Bill Aceto – voted not to have an early voting location on the campus of Appalachian State University for the general election in November. At the same meeting, Democrat Kathleen Campbell favored an early-voting site on the college campus and said the exclusion of an early voting site at ASU violated the U.S. Constitution.

Because the one-stop plan wasn’t unanimous, it went before the State Board of Elections in August. The State Board of Elections voted 4-1 to approve the Republican majority plan with some minor changes. However, those changes didn’t include adding an early-voting site at ASU. Republicans on the State Board of Elections have a 3-2 majority.

The seven petitioners are represented by the Raleigh-based law firm Bailey and Dixon, LLP. At the State Board of Elections hearing for the one-stop plan, Bill Gilkenson of Bailey and Dixon spoke on behalf of Campbell. Earlier in the year, the Watauga County Voting Rights Task Force, an arm of the Watauga County Democratic Party, announced that it had retained the services of Bailey & Dixon to “represent our constitutional rights” regarding polling sites in the 2014 general election.

In the petition for judicial review, the petitioners request that the court determine whether [SBOE] abused its discretion by adopting a plan that didn’t take “into consideration factors including geographic, demographic and partisan interests of the county,” pursuant to N.C. General Statutes.

The 25-page petition states that ASU is the largest employer in the county with 3,000 employees and that 34 percent of Watauga County’s population is comprised of 17,800 ASU students.

“After Watauga, the counties with the highest percentage of UNC students are Jackson County (25 percent, Western Carolina) and Orange County (20 percent, UNC-Chapel Hill). The statewide average percentage for those counties with UNC campus is 11 percent,” the petition reads.

Also, the petition reads that 18 to 25 year olds represent 30 percent of registered voters in Watauga County, a rate that is nearly triple the statewide average of voters in that age group.

Reached for comment via email on Monday, Joshua Lawson, public information officer for the State Board of Elections, wrote: “Petitioners’ filing is under review by the Attorney General’s Office. Early voting begins October 23 at more sites than in any prior off-year election, and we are hoping for high participation throughout the state.”

Don Wright, general counsel for the State Board of Elections, didn’t immediately respond to a message for comment.

See the entire petition here: SBOE-Lawsuit-Filing

Friday’s Expedited Order: File-stamped Order to grant Motion to Shorten Time 10.30.2014 (00374476xBFA5E),