By Jesse Wood
July 23, 2014. No surprises occurred at the Watauga County Board of Elections meeting on Wednesday to adopt the one-stop implementation plan for the general election in November. The meeting, held in the larger courtroom in the Watauga County Courthouse, began at 5 p.m. and heated up at the end.
The Republican majority of Chair Luke Eggers and Sec. Bill Aceto voted to maintain the same early voting locations as it adopted for the May primary. Those early voting polling sites are:
- Watauga County Administration Building in downtown Boone
- Western Watauga Community Center in Sugar Grove
- Blowing Rock Town Hall
- Deep Gap Fire Department
- Meat Camp Fire Department
“That plan worked well, and I feel like the hours worked. We ‘ve already been before the state, and it’s gone through them as well. I feel like it will work,” Eggers said, leading off the discussion. “That’s my take on it.”
Two months before the May primary, the bipartisan State Board of Elections upheld the locations of the majority plan unanimously and tweaked the hours to accommodate voters during different parts of the day.
Aceto noted that it was important to “be consistent with the polling places” and not change them every other election. He noted that the hours were flexible enough for students or those working to come and vote either early in the morning, during the middle of the day or after the workday. Aceto also stressed that the majority plan exceeds the minimum requirement for early-voting hours required by the State Board of Elections.
Democrat Board Member Kathleen Campbell, who voted against the majority plan proposed on Wednesday, read a five-page statement in her presentation of a plan that included reinstating the early-voting site on the campus of Appalachian State University, something that Democrats, in particular, have loudly favored.
She noted that the exclusion of an early voting site on the college campus violated the U.S. constitution because it restricts voting access to college-aged people. She mentioned that enrollment of ASU constitutes almost 34 percent of the population of Watauga County and a greater number of the voting population.
“No other county even comes close to having a college population with that large a share of the county population,” Campbell said.
She mentioned that the voter age increased by eight years from the May 2010 primary, when one-stop and election day voting took place inside the student union, to the May 2014 primary, where the closest early voting site to the college was at the Watauga County Administration Building on King Street in downtown Boone.
That, in addition to the N.C. General Assembly doing away with out-of-precinct provision and/or transfer ballots on Election Day and a cutting a week of early voting have lead to “disheartening, but not surprising” results, Cambell said.
While Campbell’s failed plan included one-stop sites at Watauga County Administration Building, Plemmons Student Union on ASU, Foscoe Fire Department, Blowing Rock Town Hall and Meat Camp Fire Department, Campbell said that rural residents are bypassing their polling precincts to vote in downtown Boone, where they might work or shop or go to school.
“37 percent of Meat Camp early voters voted somewhere other than the Meat Camp Fire Department. The same is true for all the other remote sites as well. Even one-fourth of Blowing Rock’s early ballots were cast in downtown Boone,” Campbell said.
She then estimated – based on an assumed similar turnout to the 2010 general election – that 7,522 early voters will vote downtown – a 342 percent increase from the May 2014 primary turnout – by Campbell’s numbers.
“And we are looking at 72 percent of those early voters (5,146 voters) trying to use the single downtown site for early voting alone. Where are we going to park all these people?” Campbell asked. “How are we going to handle 86 expected voters per hour for early voting at the downtown location this November?”
Campbell summed up her comments by saying, “The elections this board has supervised since it took office have been important but relatively small. They should be used as a shakedown cruise for the major election facing us this fall.”
After her speech, Eggers was not pleased with Campbell because she didn’t provide her fellow board members with the information, data and numbers in her lengthy presentation prior to the meeting. Eggers mentioned that he asked for information about what she would be talking about more than a month ago. Campbell said she was still compiling that information for her presentation.
Eggers said that this lack of information provided to the board members is something that Campbell “jumped myself and Mr. Aceto about [with the] perceived idea that we ambushed you on resolutions” at the now infamous, inaugural board meeting between these three members in August 2013 that made national headlines and caused members of the State Board of Elections to say that they would prefer that local elections board meetings not go viral on YouTube.
“I had no idea what you were going to talk about,” Eggers said. “I figured we were going to be discussing Boone 2 [which was the second item on the agenda] instead we ended up talking about Boone 1, Boone 2, Boone 3 and Mutton Crossing. I feel like this was just a stunt to rehash stuff we’ve already gone over and make a show. That’s my gut feeling.”
(Campbell had earlier in the meeting called for moving Boone 2 location from Legends on the campus of ASU to Linville Falls Room in the Plemmons Student Union on ASU for the general election because of students have difficulty navigating Poplar Grove Road. She also showed a video of someone talking about the trouble of voting at Mutton Crossing precinct, which was originally located at the National Guard Armory before the Republican-led board moved it to a more rural destination of Mutton Crossing.)
Similar to a comment made by Eggers after her presentation, Aceto responded, “I have no idea where these numbers came from.”
“We have it all documented and are going to put this into public record,” Campbell said.
To which, Aceto responded, “Who is we?”
Campbell replied: “I spent a good long time on this and I meant to give you one but I was nervous and didn’t think that. Here.”
She then provided documents of her presentation to Aceto and Eggers and handed over a two-to-three inch stack of paperwork to office staff at the Watauga County Board of Elections taking minutes of the meeting.
“I would like to work with you as opposed to against you,” Eggers said.
“It’s not about me. I like you. It’s not a problem. I like him [Aceto]. It’s not a problem. We could all go eat pizza, but you know it’s a principle here that we are dealing with and I believe you are engaging in voter suppression and…” Campbell said, as she was drowned out with applause from about two-dozen people in attendance.
The meeting was adjourned shortly thereafter.