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Watauga elections board scrubs meeting minutes

Posted August 22, 2013

— Parts of the minutes of a recent meeting of the Watauga County Board of Elections have been deleted at the request of the chairman, a move that a media attorney says invites legal challenges.

On Aug. 12, the two newly appointed Republican members of the board made big changes to Watauga County's voting plans with no advance notice.

Over the objections of Kathleen Campbell, the lone Democratic board member, they voted to remove the early voting site on the Appalachian State University campus – about 5,000 voters used that site in 2012 – and consolidate the school's Election Day precinct into a so-called "super precinct" of 9,000 voters, which is far larger than state law allows.

Luke Eggers, the new chairman of the elections board, said the changes would streamline voting and save money. County elections director Jane Ann Hodges disputed Eggers' claims.

Closing polling locations at college campuses has become an issue in several cities after changes in voter laws approved by state lawmakers this year.

Bill Aceto, the second Republican member of the Watauga County elections board, said there were logistical problems with the ASU precinct, adding that about half of the student body who cast votes already use the consolidated precinct site.

Eggers was also warned during the meeting that he had violated his oath by consulting with Watauga County Republican Party Chairwoman Anne Marie Yates about the voting plan because her brother is running for office.

Media attorney Mike Tadych Attorney: Minutes should reflect what happens at public meetings

The details of the meeting were included in draft minutes, but the three-member board approved a third version of the minutes on Tuesday, scrubbing the details. The approved minutes say merely that precinct locations were discussed and include no mention of Yates.

"In what ways have you two not violated the open meetings law?" Campbell asked before the revised minutes were approved. "You boys should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Eggers said the minutes should include only proposals and votes and not the details of the discussion.

"The minutes are to reflect what the board did – the business of the board – in a concise manner, and I feel like the minutes that were written do exactly that," he said.

Raleigh attorney Mike Tadych, who often represents the media in open government cases, said Thursday that public bodies are required by law to keep full and accurate minutes of their meetings, not simply a synopsis.

"The notion of 'the board had a discussion' doesn't give anybody any idea what transpired, and certainly, somebody reading the approved minutes that are greatly reduced wouldn't have an understanding that there was any real contentiousness or disagreement about what ended up taking place at this meeting," Tadych said. "To say, based on what is out there, that these are full and accurate, I don't think passes the giggle test. It should be what happened."

The board's actions could open it up to a legal challenge, Tadych said, but Aceto said he thinks the edited minutes are legal.

22 Comments

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  • ezLikeSundayMorning Aug 23, 3:11 p.m.

    The chairman should go to jail. Just 7 days would be plenty, but he knew perfectly well what he was doing was illegal and just didn't care.

  • kdogwnc Aug 23, 2:42 p.m.

    davisgw: North Carolina law is settled on the issue of residency for college students. You should lobby your representatives to change the law if you believe college students should not have the right to vote where they reside. And if lobbying doesn't help, try giving a few hundred thousand dollars to Art Pope's political machine at Civitas and John Locke.

  • djbost Aug 23, 1:32 p.m.

    Thank you, WRAL, for reporting this shameful activity. You are doing your civic duty, keeping us fully informed.

  • dwntwnboy2 Aug 23, 12:37 p.m.

    "I do approve of cutting college voting sites"- why? These students live there for over 2/3 of the year, from Aug-May. Why shouldn't they vote where the local laws affect them 60% or more of the year? They pay money to live on campus, just like an apt. What's the difference between a college kid in a dorm and someone with a 6 month lease on an apt? Both are living in that location and paying taxes as they go there- sales tax, gas tax, city and county taxes on any other purchases. Their money is good enough for a community, but not their vote? What are the repubs scared of?

  • dwntwnboy2 Aug 23, 12:34 p.m.

    "I'm glad no one has even tried to defend any of this.."- they can't really. They can try, but it would only make them look silly.

  • jgilchr Aug 23, 12:18 p.m.

    They can scrub all the minutes they want. There is video archived of it all in several places online. They can run but they can't hide.

  • davisgw Aug 23, 11:36 a.m.

    I don't live there and I do approve of cutting college voting sites and having college students vote where they are considered full time residents. However I expect Mr. Aceto will get a course in what is required.

  • marsupial75 Aug 23, 11:20 a.m.

    I'm glad no one has even tried to defend any of this...

  • rowdya Aug 23, 10:12 a.m.

    If you can't win fair and square, cheat your way to victory. This is the GOP's mantra and it is alive and well in NC, especially in Elizabeth City and Watauga County.

    Please keep it up NC Republicans, all you're doing is providing Progressives with more and more ammunition to strike down NC's anti-voter bill.

  • dwntwnboy2 Aug 23, 9:28 a.m.

    It's one thing to try and make voting harder- for no good reason. Then to go and try and cover your tracks by editing the meeting minutes so no one can see what they did. Disgusting! Never have we seen this great state go backwards so far, so fast. We were near the bottom of the barrel in turns of voter turn out in the 90s- 47 out of 50. Then by 2012, we were 11 out of 50- THEN they make it harder to vote. Just shows the repubs are scared of the voting public and will do anything in their power to keep that power.

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