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Elections Officials’ Advice Ignored by Watauga’s BOE

Campbell, Eggers and Aceto (left to right) at Tuesday's meeting inside the boardroom of the Watauga County Board of Elections. Photo by Jesse Wood
Campbell, Eggers and Aceto (left to right) at Tuesday’s meeting inside the boardroom of the Watauga County Board of Elections. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

Oct. 29, 2013. Once again, the Republican board members on the Watauga County Board of Elections declined to follow the advice of 27-year veteran, Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges and, more recently, Don Wright, who has been general counsel for the State Board of Elections for more than a decade, at Tuesday’s board meeting inside the Watauga County Courthouse.

This time around the issue regards the process of continuing a transfer station at the Legends polling precinct on the campus of ASU, which has occurred at the Boone 2 polling location for at least the past seven years, according to an Oct. 15 email exchange between Hodges and Wright that was obtained through a public records request.

Transfer stations allow voters who enter the wrong polling precinct, for one reason or another, a chance to cast their ballot at said precinct. Even with this change, voters may still cast a provisional ballot, however Hodges said after Tuesday’s meeting that the provisional ballot process is cumbersome, more time consuming for staff and voters because of validity procedures and an extra form that voters have to fill out. 

At Tuesday’s meeting before routine business, such as the approval of absentee ballots, was conducted, Democrat Board Member Kathleen Campbell spoke, requesting for the third time in less than a month that the board consider a transfer station at Legends. Campbell made a motion to amend the agenda, so that she could then make a motion to add the transfer-station item to the agenda. It died, though, for lack of a second from either Chair Luke Eggers or Secretary Bill Aceto.

But before that motion was made and subsequently died, Campbell read a prepared statement at the meeting and afterwards gave some off-the-cuff remarks, chastising her Republican counterparts for not respecting Hodges and not listening to Wright’s opinion, who noted in the email exchange, the “efficiency” of transfer stations as opposed to provisional ballots.

Below is the email exchange between Hodges and Wright on Oct. 15.

Hodges emails Wright:

Don: We have had a transfer 2 precinct at the Boone 2 polling location for at least 7 years.  I have recommended to my board that we continue this practice.  I feel it will save many hours of reviewing and approving provisional applications.  In 2012 we have 782 voters at transfer 2.  If the transfer precinct had not been in place…..those voters would have voted provisional.

We have a student who is working a well organized write-in campaign for mayor….so I also feel that we will have a larger than normal number of student voters.

Your guidance on this matter would be appreciated.

Have a great day and thanks for all that you do for North Carolina.

Jane Ann Hodges, Director
Watauga County

 Wright responds:

 Dear Director Hodges, 

I concur with you, that this is an efficient way to handle the issue. It is also good in that the process is already familiar to Watauga County voters since it has been in effect for the past seven years.

Don Wright
General Counsel
NC State Board of Elections

In her statement on Tuesday, Campbell mentioned Hodges aforementioned concerns. Campbell added, however, “Because of the modifications you made in her duties, she’s not even allowed to be in her office alone in order to accomplish her tasks. We now have to pay overtime for other people to stay with her after their workdays are done so that she won’t be alone … I think we should respect Jane Ann’s knowledge and let her to do her job as she sees fit.”

(In the past, the decision on transfer stations was made by staff – not the board members.)

Campbell also noted that she made a motion at the Oct. 15 meeting, based on Hodge’s recommendation, to restore the transfer station at Boone 2 Precinct, which is Legend’s for the 2013 municipal elections. This motion also died because of a lack of a second two weeks ago.

Then Campbell said that Eggers had a change of heart and said, before the following meeting (a week prior to Tuesday’s Oct. 29 meeting), that he “would allow [Hodges] to use a transfer station.”

“However, it was not brought up in our meeting and to the attention of the other board members because Mr. Eggers said he did not think that Mr. Aceto would agree to it. Of course, that was specious, as I would have agreed to it and it would have passed [with a majority of the vote],” Campbell said on Tuesday evening.

On Oct. 27, Campbell also requested that Eggers, who as chair puts together the agenda for board meetings, add “discussion of a transfer station for Legends” to the Oct. 29 meeting agenda, according to email correspondence obtained in a public records request. However, this item was not included in Tuesday’s meeting agenda.  

After the meeting, Eggers clarified what Campbell said he told Hodges last week, “I said I would think about it. I said it does have some merit, and then I decided it would be best if we ran this election with everybody in their own precincts.”

“My view on that is the board didn’t take any action. I don’t think it’s fair at this point, this close to [Election Day], to move anything around that the board hasn’t taken any action on, especially this close to election being a week away,” Eggers said. “I don’t want to do something without the board making approval of it. Elections are underway.”

When it was noted that this issue initially came up before early voting began and again tonight with the entire board present, Eggers responded, “I still think the right decision has been made.”

As for Wright, general counsel with the State Board of Elections, concurring with Hodges and noting that transfer stations are an “efficient” process, Eggers said, “We’ll see how it goes after this one. OK. I am new at this. We’ll see how it goes.” 

Aceto addressed this issue briefly after a board meeting on Oct. 2, where once the meeting concluded Aceto stuck around and answered some questions from those in attendance. One person asked about a transfer station at Legends, and Aceto’s comment more than three weeks ago echoed those made by Eggers this Tuesday.

“Let’s see how this election goes,” Aceto said at the time.