Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Supreme Court said Wednesday afternoon the courts should take up the issue of early voting on the campus of Appalachian State, literally moments after the State Board of Elections had voted to restore the on-campus early voting site.
However, the early voting site will remain open as the state elections board voted, unless the board meets again to cancel the site.
The Supreme Court order came down just before 5 p.m., about twenty minutes after the state board voted unanimously to OK the site in a hastily called emergency meeting.
Early voting is scheduled to begin in Watauga County at 8 a.m. Thursday.
The latest developments follow a ruling last week in a lawsuit filed by a group of Watauga County voters that argued the closure of the on-campus site was a transparent attempt to reduce Democratic turnout. Wake Superior Judge Donald Stephens agreed with the plaintiffs, ordering the state elections board to adopt a new early voting plan for Watauga County that would include a site on campus.
The Watauga County board, like the State Board of Elections, is majority Republican, while the voters at Appalachian State tend to lean Democratic.
The state board appealed Stephens's ruling to the N.C. Court of Appeals and even asked the state Supreme Court to block the order. But the Court of Appeals denied the appeal Tuesday, and the Supreme Court had not stepped in by the time of Wednesday afternoon's meeting.
"I guess we have not heard from the Supreme Court at this point, and that’s why we’re here," commented Republican board member Rhonda Amoroso.
However, minutes after the meeting concluded, the N.C. Supreme Court issued an order saying it would send the case to the Court of Appeals for review, and staying Stephens' earlier order to open an early-voting site on the Boone campus.
State board spokesman Josh Lawson confirmed that the Supreme Court stay does not void the elections board's vote to add the on-campus site. However, the state board could choose to hold another meeting and vote again to get rid of the site, now that Stephens' order requiring it is no longer in effect.
The on-campus site will be at the Plemmons Student Union, a location that has hosted early voting since 2006.
In a letter to the state board, Watauga County Elections Board chairman Luke Eggers asked them to choose either a nearby nightclub or the school's alumni center instead. Eggers said it would be difficult to enforce electioneering buffer zones at the student union's many entrances, and he expressed concern that voters unfamiliar with the school would have difficulty locating a room in the large building.
Republican state board member Paul Foley echoed those concerns at Wednesday's meeting. However, noting that the nightclub already has several events booked during the early voting period, and with such a short window of time to set up a site, he reluctantly agreed with Democratic board member Joshua Malcolm that the student union would be the best choice.
The board-approved plan opens the on-campus site during the same hours as other satellite voting locations around the county.
"Our thanks in advance to the Watauga County staff and volunteers and precinct workers that are going to have to pull things together with very limited time," commented state board chairman Josh Howard.