State board won't restore early voting site for Appalachian State campus
The N.C. State Board of Elections did adjust the hours for an early voting plan from Watauga County, and reviewed proposals from several other locations.Posted — Updated
Kathleen Campbell, the lone Democrat on Watauga County's three-member elections board, put forward the plan with the Appalachian State voting site as an alternative to the early voting plan approved by the board's two Republicans.
"We think there's no real substitute for having a site at ASU," said Bill Gilkeson, a Raleigh attorney who represented Campbell at Thursday's state board hearing.
"Watauga has become our second home," state board Chairman Josh Howard joked Thursday.
The Republican appointees to the local board stood by their decision to move an early voting location off Appalachian State's campus, while Campbell said it should be added to the other five sites.
The campus location is a polling site on Election Day but not during the early voting period. It is close – about 0.6 mile – to the downtown Boone location that handles the majority of early voting traffic during the elections. Democrats contend it's inconvenient for students, but Republicans say it offers greater access to the wider community.
"I have problems with the ASU student union as a location," Watauga County elections board member Bill Aceto, a Republican, told the state board. "It's impossible to establish electioneering buffers. It's a very large building with multiple exits."
State board member Maya Kricker, a Democrat, responded that there are many large buildings used across the state.
Other Republicans on the state board sharply questioned Gilkeson about the difference between the relatively short distance between the campus location and the downtown Boone location that was open during the primary. Members of the general public unconnected to the university might have problems finding the campus location, they suggested.
"Is it that your contention that any students or other (people) have been disenfranchised because there was no location at the college?" state board member Rhonda Amoroso, a Republican, asked Gilkeson.
The lawyer responded, "We could contest that barriers had been erected to students."
Amoroso shot back that Gilkeson had not presented any affidavits or other materials that showed a student had been denied the right to vote.
"I would not say that is a definite fact," Gilkeson said, pointing to a drop off in early voting among 18- to 25-year-olds between the 2010 and 2014 primaries.
"That's an indication of something," he said.
Amoroso and fellow Republican Paul Foley peppered Gilkeson with skeptical questions throughout the hearing.
Democrats have argued that, between faculty, students and staff, more than half of the county's voting age population is on campus during weekdays.
State board members did adjust Watauga County's early voting hours at the downtown Boone location so that it would run 12 hours per day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., instead of from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. as included in the county's original plan. They offset that change by reducing hours at the four rural early voting sites, with county elections director Jane Ann Hodges saying she would like to let staff at those locations leave earlier in the day due to often adverse weather in October and November.
The state board approved that adjusted plan 4-1, with Kricker voting against it.
In other business:
- The state board heard six other cases in which one member of a local elections board appealed the early voting plan approved by two others. In most of those cases, the state board refused to overturn the local plan.
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