State elections board OKs college voting moves
Posted March 24, 2014
Updated March 25, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — The State Board of Elections on Monday approved a move by the Republican-controlled Watauga County Board of Elections to take away the one-stop voting site on the campus of heavily Democratic Appalachian State University for the 2014 primary.
Citing a need to spread early voting sites across the county geographically, the Watauga County board decided earlier this year to shutter the one-stop voting site at the Plemmons Student Union in Boone, where early voting has taken place since 2008.
Downtown Boone will still have one early voting site – at the city Administration Building, near town hall.
The lone Democrat on Watauga County's board, Kathleen Campbell, filed an official complaint against the plan, saying it leaves one early voting site to serve 60 percent of the county's registered voters.
Additionally, under the Republican plan, one-stop voting sites would have been open only 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, making it difficult for people who work full-time to use them.
"The reason we have a problem is because we're right now trying to make it very difficult to vote," Campbell said. "These are real people."
Democratic State Board of Elections member Maya Kricker asked Watauga County Republican board member Bill Aceto to explain the closure of the Appalachian State site. He responded that other sites were better suited and more accessible.
"I don't see a compelling public interest in eliminating an early voting site that has served so many voters. The perception of fairness cannot be overstated," Kricker responded. "We can create a war zone, or we can build a community."
Noting that "there isn't support" on the state board, which is also Republican-dominated, to force the Watauga County board to reinstate the Appalachian State location, Kricker added, "I'm hoping that you will really reconsider for the general election" in November.
Republican state board Chairman Josh Howard pointedly recommended that Aceto take Kricker's recommendation back to Watauga County board Chairman Luke Eggers.
"I think we all feel like we're part-time residents of Boone," Howard said.
The state board did negotiate some changes in early-voting hours in Watauga County. For the first two weekdays of early voting, one-stop sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the county and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Boone. The following week, all sites will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the final Saturday..
Watauga County Democrats who traveled to the meeting from Boone say a lawsuit is likely.
The state board also ruled in favor of a plan to shut down one-stop voting at the Rams Head Dining Hall at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Instead, students, staff, and faculty will be able to vote early at Hillel for the 2014 primary.
Initial plans from the Republican-dominated Orange County Board of Elections would have removed early voting from the campus completely, moving the site downtown to the Chapel Hill library instead. But that changed after significant pushback from local leaders.