By Jesse Wood
Aug. 20, 2013. In the aftermath of the Aug. 12 Watauga County Board of Elections meeting, Kathleen Campbell, a Democrat board member, and Chair Luke Eggers, a Republican chair, sent petitions to the State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach.
Because the vote to adopt a new one-stop implementation plan, which narrowed the early voting polling places from ASU, Foscoe and the Watauga County Courthouse to only Watauga County Board of Commissioners boardroom on King Street, was not unanimous, members on the county board of elections may petition the State Board of Elections to adopt the plan or consider an alternative plan from another board member.
Eggers and Republican Bill Aceto voted to adopt the plan while Campbell voted nay.
To this end, Eggers sent the proposal he and Aceto voted to adopt and the reasoning behind that proposal to Strach while Campbell submitted an alternate plan that consisted of two early voting sites, including one on the campus of ASU.
Read letters penned by Eggers and Campbell below:
Campbell’s letter to State Board of Elections Director Kim Strach:
August 15, 2013
Kim Westbrook Strach, Executive Director
North Carolina Board of Elections
PO BOX 27255
Raleigh, NC 27611-7255
Re: Watauga County Board of Elections, One-Stop Implementation Plan for 2013 Municipal Elections
Dear Ms. Strach:
A One-Stop Implementation Plan for the November 5, 2013 municipal elections was considered at the Watauga County Board of Elections meeting on August 12, 2013. The Plan failed to be approved unanimously as required under North Carolina statute. I did not support the proposed Plan because it would only provide a single One-Stop location for over 15,017 registered municipal Boone voters as well as for voters in the Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain, and Seven Devils municipalities.
While historically, fully contested Boone municipal elections with intense public interest (as is the case this year) bring in far fewer voters than the total number of registered voters, it remains that a single early voting site cannot provide adequate coverage of or reasonable accessibility for the town’s diverse electorate.
For these reasons, pursuant to North Carolina General Statute §163-227.2(g), I am petitioning the North Carolina State Board of Elections to approve [an] alternate One-Stop Implementation Plan for the upcoming municipal elections. This Plan provides for two One-Stop voting locations.
NC General Statute §163-227.2(g) requires that the State Board of Elections, in adopting a one-stop voting implementation plan, take into consideration factors including geographic, demographic and partisan interests of that county. These factors, considered in total, clearly indicate that a minimum of two One-Stop sites is required to provide adequate coverage of the electorate eligible to vote in these municipal elections.
TOWN OF BOONE GEOGRAPHY, DEMOGRAPHICS & PARTISAN BREAKDOWN:
There are currently 15,017 registered voters eligible to vote in Boone’s municipal election. The township is almost equally divided between registered Republicans and Democrats (3593 Republicans; 4174 Democrats), but is 48 percent Unaffiliated/Libertarian voters (7250).
Currently, for voting and registration purposes, the town is divided into eight (8) individual precincts. The breakdown of registered voters eligible for the Town of Boone municipal election in each of these precincts is as follows:
–Blue Ridge (353 voters)
–Boone 1 (1802 voters)
–Boone 2 (2561 voters)
–Boone 3 (3737 voters)
–Brushy Fork (767 voters)
–New River 1 (1813 voters)
–New River 2 (1282 voters)
–New River 3 (1702 voters)
As you can see, a full 49 percent (7298 voters) of the Town of Boone’s registered voters live in two precincts: Boone 2 and Boone 3. This concentration of registered voters – centered around the ASU Campus (Boone 2 and Boone 3) – is illustrated in the attached Voter Density Map of the Boone precincts. A closer look at the voters in these two precincts reveals that 82 percent (5997) are 25 years of age or younger. Sixty-four percent (4644) of the voters in these two precincts live in dormitories on Appalachian State University’s (ASU’s) campus, as is evidenced by their 28608 registered address zip code, a zip code reserved exclusively for dorm and all other ASU campus addresses.
Thirty-one percent (31%) of all of the Town of Boone’s 15,017 municipal voters live in dorms on ASU’s campus.
It is important to note that in addition to the voters living in dorms in Boone 2 and Boone 3, there are also 2,500 faculty and staff and 17,589 total students either living and/or working or studying on ASU’s campus every day. Appalachian State University is the #1 employer in Watauga County. Inevitably some, if not most, of the Town of Boone voters living in the Town’s other 6 municipal precincts are also on ASU’s campus every day. As in most small towns with major universities, parking in Boone is difficult, expensive, and often remote. For this reason, many students do not own a vehicle. Those who do are often required to park their cars in private or university lots far off-site from campus.
While the Town of Boone is relatively flat by Mountain standards, sidewalks are at a premium, its two-lane roads are frequently and seriously congested, and public parking availability is woeful.
THE FAILED UNADOPTED PLAN OF AUGUST 12:
For the reasons stated above, for every election from 2008 through the 2012 elections, the Watauga County Board of Elections has adopted a One-Stop Implementation Plan that includes two early voting sites: the County Board of Elections Office in the Courthouse on King Street, and the Appalachian State University Student Union (the Union).
However, the Plan proposed at the August 12, 2013 Board of Elections’ meeting dictates a single early voting location for all of the four (4) Watauga County municipal elections: the County Administration Building (County Commissioners Board Room).
The Watauga County Board of Elections has served Watauga County voters well as an early voting site. It is a traditional and well-known early voting location and is the site strongly recommended by General Statute §163-227.2. The Board of Elections is located inside the County Courthouse on Boone’s main street (King Street). During early voting days, the county Board of Elections Director blocks off eight (8) parking spaces dedicated to voters. Curbside voting is offered, and the rooms are fully handicapped accessible.
The County Administration Building (County Commissioners’ Board room) is located adjacent to the Board of Elections. In addition to the eight (8) King Street parking spaces reserved for early voters, the private parking lot next door offers a mere additional three (3) regular parking spaces and one (1) handicapped parking space.
While I do not take definitive issue with moving the One-Stop voting site from the Board of Elections office next door to the Administration Building as the Plan of August 12th recommends, I do take issue with the Plan’s contention that the Board of Elections Office must now necessarily be abandoned as an early voting site because “The CBE office can no longer accommodate One-Stop voting due to its size and space limitations.” It should be noted that this statement ironically acknowledges the very fact that continuing to utilize the Watauga County Board of Elections as an early voting site would not even be an issue were ASU’s Student Union continued to be employed as a second early voting site.
Regardless, neither the Administration Building nor the Board of Elections office alone can in any way accommodate the town’s electorate for the Town of Boone’s one-stop voting needs.
How do we accommodate the 49 percent of Boone’s total registered voters who reside in the Boone 2 and Boone 3 precincts and who are quite likely on foot? How do we accommodate the 64 percent of voters in these two precincts who live in ASU dormitories and are most surely on foot? How do we accommodate the 2,500 faculty and staff at ASU, many of whom are certainly registered to vote in the Boone municipal?
It is an approximate two-mile, 30-minute round-trip walk from the Student Union to the County Board of Elections or the County Administration Building. Students with a full schedule of classes generally have no more than 10-15 minutes between class meeting times. ASU faculty and staff have even less available time to make the trek to the County Courthouse and complete the voting process. There is no public transportation immediately at the ready for these voters, and those who do decide to take a chance on a quick trip by car will have to compete with the rest of the 15,017 registered Boone voters, and the roughly 2,000 other municipalities’ registered voters, for a maximum of 11 total parking spaces at the only proposed early voting site.
THE ASU STUDENT UNION: AN ESSENTIAL & EFFICIENT ONE-STOP VOTING LOCATION:
The ASU Student Union is centrally located on the ASU campus and has been used as an early voting site since 2008. It is in full compliance with the requirements of North Carolina’s general statutes and HAVA.
While most voters choosing to vote at this campus location are on foot, for voters driving to the site location there are six voter-dedicated parking spaces in a parking deck directly adjacent to the Union. Additional short-term parking puts the voter within approximately 10 feet of the Union’s Locust Street entrance. Curbside voting is offered, and the building is fully handicapped-accessible. When heavy voting occurs at the Union, the Watauga County Board of Elections Director provides a volunteer “Greeter” to direct voters directly to the voting room and available parking spaces. The “Greeter” has never relayed problems related to the inability of voters to find adequate parking. 5
In early 2012, the Watauga County Board of Elections received a concern about handicapped access to the Student Union voting site. Specifically, the voter’s concern resulted from his/her inability to locate the buzzer to request curbside assistance. In response to this concern, the Director of the Board re-inspected the site and relayed to Board members that the buzzer was working, in plain view, and that the building fully and adequately accommodated handicapped needs.
THE EFFECT OF A SINGLE ONE-STOP SITE IN CONCERT WITH THE CONSOLIDATION OF OVER 9300 TOWN OF BOONE VOTERS INTO A SINGLE SUPER PRECINCT
Without convenient access to an on-campus one-stop voting location as discussed above, voters in the Boone 2 and Boone 3 precincts especially might choose to take their chances on Election Day, a day of normally scheduled classes for ASU students.
But they would be foiled.
At the August 12th Watauga County Board of Elections meeting, the Board approved (2-1) combining the three existing Boone Precincts (Boone 1, Boone 2, and Boone 3) into one Super Precinct, made effective immediately. The Board of Elections Director stated during the meeting discussion that the total number of registered voters included in this new combined precinct would exceed 9,300 voters. The current guidelines from your office set a goal of under 1500 registered voters in any given precinct.
The Election Day voting site approved by the Watauga County Board of Elections for the new Super Precinct is the Agricultural Conference Center. I have attached pictures of this site and the roads leading to it. The site is located .82 mile from the ASU Student Union, involves a 42-minute round-trip walk to and from the site, requires voters to walk in the street on a good part of their trek because there are no sidewalks, requires those in wheel chairs to navigate both traffic and obstacles close to the street, and offers approximately 30 total parking spaces, 20 of which (according to the Board of Elections Director during meeting discussion) will be required for staff parking.
Those who decide to take Boone’s public transportation to the Agricultural Conference Center would attempt Appalcart’s Gold Route. As you can see from Appalcart’s attached timed route, riders could hop on the bus at ASU’s Student Union. From there, they would ride about 15 minutes to the “Human Services Stop,” then walk about 5 minutes to the voting site, unaided by sidewalks. After voting, Appalcart riders would then catch the next bus for a lengthy ride back to the Student Union. Appalcart estimates travel time (not counting the voting process) at one (1) hour minimum round trip. And even though polls will be open until 7:30PM on Election Day, Appalcart does not offer service on this route to the voting site after 6PM.
ABANDONMENT OF THE ASU STUDENT UNION AS A ONE-STOP SITE SAVES NEITHER MONEY NOR RESOURCES
While my fellow Board members claim that abandoning the ASU Student Union as a One-Stop voting site will save money and cut down on needed election personnel, Watauga County Board of Elections Director, Jane Hodges (a 27-year Watauga elections veteran) stated at the August 12th meeting that doing so would save neither.
NO PUBLIC COMMENT SOLICITED OR ALLOWED
Town of Boone voters have in general been very pleased with having an early voting site at both the Board of Elections and ASU’s Student Union.
Yet even though Town of Boone voters foot the bill for the entirety of their municipal elections, no input was sought from either them or from their elected officials regarding the One-Stop Implementation Plan introduced at the August 12th Watauga County Board of Elections meeting. In fact, the plan was not made public (even to me) until 9AM on August 12th at the meeting start.
The August 12th meeting was attended by over 60 Town of Boone Republican, Democratic, and Unaffiliated voters wishing (at times quite loudly) to weigh in on the proposed Plan, but the other two Board members allowed no public comment. The Mayor of the Town of Boone (who is not a candidate in the upcoming elections) also attended the meeting in order to see the Plan and voice her initial impressions before its adoption. The other two Board members, however, refused to hear from her in spite of howls of protest from Town of Boone voters attending the meeting. (A letter from the Mayor is attached.)
The failed August 12th One-Stop Implementation Plan does not even address the serious demographic and geographic challenges that would inevitably result from its adoption. My proposed One-Stop Implementation Plan for the November 5, 2013 municipal elections solves the demographic and geographic challenges and is the proven successful One-Stop Plan for municipal voters and the Watauga County Board of Elections staff. 7
I welcome your questions and can be reached by phone at (828) 297-3570 or by email at [email protected]
Member of the Watauga County Board of Elections
CC: Don Wright, SBOE General Counsel
Joshua Howard, SBOE Chairman
George McCue, SBOE Elections Specialist