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Searching For Elusive ‘Common Ground’ on Watauga County BOE, Legends To Be Precinct on ASU Campus

Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges (left) Chair Luke Eggers, Secretary BIll Aceto, Board Member Kathleen Campbell and Elections Staff Member Donna Houcks
Elections Director Jane Ann Hodges (left) Chair Luke Eggers, Secretary BIll Aceto, Board Member Kathleen Campbell and Elections Staff Member Donna Houcks

By Jesse Wood

Sept. 4, 2013. After Tuesday’s admonishing from the State Board of Elections about appearing on YouTube and the handling of business during the initial meetings as a trio, the Watauga County Board of Elections meeting on Wednesday featured more pleasantries – although there was still much disagreement.

“I, too, want to find common ground,” Chair Luke Eggers, one of the two Republican members on the local board, said.

This response came after Kathleen Campbell, the lone Democrat, expressed dismay that whenever Eggers’ brother Four Eggers, a former member of the Watauga County Board of Elections and current county attorney, objected to something on March 1, 2006 – when the Democrats controlled the elections board, Four Eggers’ objections were noted in the minutes.

“Whenever he had something to say, his objections were recorded,” Campbell said, adding that perhaps the board could come to a compromise about the meeting minutes and that she was requesting all versions of the minutes and any media footage of the meetings to be included into the officially adopted minutes.

So far minutes from the Aug. 12 meeting and the Aug. 20 meeting prepared by staff have been “condensed” by the either Eggers or Aceto and officially adopted by the board on a 2-1 vote.

The minutes from Aug. 12 were shortened from seven to four pages and replaced much of Campbell’s objections with “there was discussion by the board.”

As for the Aug. 20 meeting minutes that were adopted on Wednesday, those, too, were shortened from three to one pages and do not include any commentary or objections from Campbell – other than that “Campbell voted against” said measure. 

“I too want to find common ground,” Eggers said after Campbell’s objections to the Aug. 20 minutes.

But he continued – as he has in the past – that minutes should be “concise” and reflect the actions taken by the board. 

So just like Aug. 12, Aceto and Eggers voted to approve the Aug. 20 minutes without accepting all drafts of the minutes and without Campbell’s request for the inclusion of media footage of the meetings.

‘I certainly support it [but] I don’t agree with reasons given’

The board breezed through the next order of routine business and unanimously adopted the new registrations and statistics.

It then moved on to the withdrawing of a resolution passed on Aug. 12 that combined three voting precincts in Boone – which were located at the Watauga County Board of Commissioners boardroom, ASU Plemmons Student Union and the agricultural conference center in the previous election – into the agricultural conference center.

This, too, proved contentious – even though Campbell vigorously opposed combining those three polling places into a “super-precinct” to begin with.

“I certainly support it, but I would like to work with you on this,” Campbell said. “Even though I agree with the final action, I don’t agree with the reasons given.”

Campbell then went on to request the removal of these paragraphs in the resolution (See entire resolution here):

  • “Whereas, this action has resulted in a great deal of misinformation being disseminated regarding the eligibility and ability of individuals to vote at the Boone precinct; and …
  • “Whereas, the Watauga County Board of Elections is concerned that the misinformation being distributed regarding this recombination of this precinct will result in voter confusion; and …
  • “Whereas, the Watauga County Board of Elections wishes to study this matter further and allow for all citizens to have accurate and complete information prior to the recombination of this precinct.”

Campbell added that the wording of the first two bullet points were “insulting” to voters and sounded as if “you are blaming voters for not understanding.”  

Campbell particularly opposed the last several words in the latter bullet point – “prior to the recombination of this precinct.” Campbell said that the phrasing sounded as if Eggers and Aceto intended to recombine the precincts at some point in the future.

“It sounds like you are already going to do it,” Campbell said, adding later in the discussion that: “I think that I can’t vote yes on this.”

Eggers responded to Campbell’s claims. He said that there was distorted facts strewn about, particularly citing the video footage on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” where a young woman walked along Rivers Street/Poplar Grove, where no sidewalk exists, to the agricultural center – instead of walking along King Street. He added that the time length of the AppalCART trip from campus to the ag center was also exaggerated by those opposing the majority’s plans.

“In my opinion that needs to be included,” Eggers said.

Eggers and Aceto ended up compromising to remove the phrasing “prior to the recombination of this precinct” from the final bullet point, but both wouldn’t budge on the “misinformation” and “voter confusion” graphs.

The board voted 2-0 – with Campbell abstaining from the vote – to accept the withdrawal of the resolution to create the unified Boone precinct.

Legends or Plemmons Student Union?

The last item up for discussion – which was contingent upon withdrawing the unified Boone precinct proposal – was moving the campus polling site on the campus of ASU from the Plemmons Student Union to Legends, which is located off U.S. 321. (See resolution of new ASU polling place here.)

Aceto said that Legends was more visible to the public than the Plemmons Student Union and added that he was still concerned about the possible lack of a required 50-foot buffer for distribution of campaign materials from the polling site at Plemmons Student Union. Eggers also noted “reservations” about parking areas near the Plemmons Student Union.

Campbell discussed favoring the Linville Falls Room in the Plemmons Student Union, which has recently finished undergoing more than five years of construction, over Legends, which she described as being a dive joint. She asked David Robertson, director of Student Programs and overseer of Legends and the Plemmons Student Union, for his opinion on the both locations as a polling site.

  • Robertson noted that the Legends is in a flood prone area of Boone and has flooded twice already this year, cancelling two contracted events. He noted that the Student Union has never flooded in its existence since ’67.
  • Pertaining to voting machine security, He noted that Legends has 17 entry doors in seven locations with 16 locksets while Linville Falls Room in the student union only has two sets of double doors with four locksets.
  • He also mentioned that Legends is an “old dog of a building” which doesn’t have a ventilation system other than large intake fans and has no backup generator for emergency power

While he stressed that the Plemmons Student Union was a superior voting precinct, he did say that the “university is committed to having a polling site on campus.”

“We will work with whatever site you choose,” Robertson said, before diving into the negative aspects of utilizing Legends for elections.

Campbell also asked for Hodges’ opinion on what site she felt would work best.

Hodges deferred to Eggers, the chairman, because of the new directorial duties that Eggers and Aceto voted on during the Aug. 12 meeting, which doesn’t allow Hodges to “become involved in discussion or debate of political or discretionary decisions of the board regarding the location or number of polling places.”

Eggers said that Hodges may give a list of pros and cons. 

Hodges, a 27-year veteran as election’s director, noted her concerns of not having backup power and being flooded out. She noted that Legends is a more visible location and is easier to find. She said parking access was about equal.  She came back to the fear of the power going out, the polling area going dark, and not knowing who is holding the ballots or who is standing next to the voting machines.

When Campbell asked in her opinion which was the best site for the polling place, Hodges hesitated and looked towards Eggers.

She then said: “Somebody asked, ‘Are you on this side or that side?” – referring to partisan members.

“I said strongly and rudely, ‘I am not on either side,’” Hodges said, adding essentially that her goal is to make sure the elections run smoothly before noting that Linville Falls Room in the student union would be a more ideal site.

Eggers responded, “As far as convenience for all citizens, Legends is the most accessible for all demographics.”

Shortly thereafter, Eggers noted that, “It sounds like discussion is coming to an end” and called the question.

Eggers and Aceto voted to move the campus location to Legends while Campbell voted nay. 

For background information about all the recent activity on the Watauga County Board of Elections, click here