By Jesse Wood
Oct. 13, 2014. On Monday morning, Wake County Judge Donald Stephens ruled that the State Board of Elections (SBOE) must approve of an early-voting plan for Watauga County that includes a one-stop site on the campus of Appalachian State University for the general election in November, according to Bill Gilkeson of the law firm Bailey & Dixon.
Gilkeson’s firm was hired by the Watauga County Voting Rights Task, an arm of the Watauga County Democratic Party and is representing local Democrat petitioners who filed a lawsuit against the Republican-led SBOE.
Stephens ruled that the decision to deny a one-stop site on the college campus was “arbitrary and capricious “ and remanded the early-voting plan back to the SBOE and instructed the state board to include an early-voting site on the campus of ASU.
Ian O’Keefe, coordinated campaign manager for the Watauga County Democratic Party, was among the seven local Democrats – Stella Anderson, Pam Williamson, Marianne Clawson, Alaina Doyle, Lauren Larue Joyner, and David Sabbaugh – seeking judicial review of the early-voting implementation that the State Board of Elections adopted in August.
The petitioners said the plan violated the state and federal constitution and discriminated against college-aged voters.
“I think that what we see is that the voters won and that what they are doing is unconstitutional, and we’ve known that since the beginning,” O’Keefe said on Monday afternoon. “It’s a win for students, a win for voters in general and a win for anyone you wants to express their constitutional right to vote. I believe this was the correct decision and will be very good for voters.”
The State Board of Elections adopted the plan selected by the Republican majority on the Watauga County Board of Elections in July. But because the plan wasn’t unanimous –with Democrat Kathleen Campbell opposing any plan without an early-voting site at the college – the matter went before the State Board of Elections. The bipartisan state board, with three Republicans and two Democrats, approved the local Republican’s plan in a 4-1 vote.
Two weeks ago, a separate Wake County Superior Court judge granted an expedited review of the early-voting implementation plan.
Representatives with the State Board of Elections, including general counsel and a public information officer, didn’t respond to requests for comment on Monday. A copy of the judge’s order can be seen here: Order.
Gilkeson with Bailey & Dixon added that he’s “sure the State is considering now whether to appeal.”
Watauga County Board of Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges said she hasn’t heard anything “official” regarding this decision.
“If they tell us such, we’ll get everything ready,” Hodges said. “It’s short timing, but we’ll do it.”
The first day of early voting is Oct. 23 – just 10 days away.