Watauga Board of Elections declines to take up polling site issues

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FILE IMAGE: Kathleen Campbell, the minority member on the Watauga Board of Elections, holds up a photo of a newly constructed meeting room on the campus of Appalachian State University on Wednesday, September 4, 2013. The majority members, Luke Eggers (left) and Bill Aceto (center), rejected the proposed site as a polling place, instead voting for the Legends building, which is on campus and comes with a slew of issues, according to school officials. (Bertrand M. Gutierrez/Journal)

BOONE, N.C. – The Republican-controlled Watauga County Board of Elections on Wednesday shot down several suggestions brought up by its Democratic member during a public meeting, sticking to an agenda that otherwise dealt with neutral issues such as the selection of precinct officials.

At the start of the meeting, Chairman Luke Eggers and Secretary Bill Aceto, the GOP members, declined to take up a motion by Kathleen Campbell, the Democrat, to discuss potential issues concerning accessibility, power and flooding at the new polling place at Appalachian State University known as the Legends building.

The motion was based in part on Director Jane Hodges’ request last week for the board to deal with the topic.

“Specifically, we need to discuss what actions should be taken regarding parking lot re-pavement, van accessibility, and the campus pathway to the sight (sic),” Hodges said in an email dated Sept. 23.

Referencing a concern raised by Kim Strach, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, Hodges also recommended a discussion about other possible flaws at the Legends building.

“In addition, Director Strach has asked us to put a plan in place regarding flooding or electrical problems on Election Day,” Hodges said in the email, which was sent to Campbell, Eggers and Aceto.

Campbell’s motion to discuss those topics did not receive a “second,” or vote of support, from the other members.

“The motion fails,” Eggers said.

As it turns out, the previous board had established the university’s convocation center as a backup polling place, Hodges said.

Regarding accessibility, she said, Eggers and Hodges will take a tour of the Legends site to inspect it and send a report to Strach. A date has not been set for the tour.

Upon hearing this, Campbell asked if she could come along.

Eggers hesitated, saying he would have to check his calendar.

The exchange brought up a wide belief among critics here that Luke Eggers receives his marching orders from his brother, Four Eggers, who is a former board member, GOP operative and the county attorney.

“He has to go talk to the puppet master,” Glenda Hubbard, who has worked the student union polling station, said after the meeting.

The Winston-Salem Journal has reported that Four Eggers was the author of several contentious resolutions that have been considered by the board, including the one to move the polling station from the student union to the Legends building. Four Eggers’ role in crafting those resolutions has raised questions about whether he can wear two hats – that of a neutral county attorney who advises the board as a whole and that of a partisan adviser to his brother.

Luke Eggers and Aceto, during the meeting, also declined to consider discussion of opening a “transfer station” at the Legends building.

A transfer station can be used to accept ballots from voters who, for whatever reason, ended up at the wrong polling station. Without one, voters can still cast a provisional ballot. However, according to election officials, those ballots can be more difficult to process and time consuming because the voter must fill out the necessary paperwork.

After the meeting, Aceto stayed as a large crowd continued to ask questions – and one of them was about the transfer station. On why the board would not establish a transfer station at the Legends building, where some students on the other edge of campus are likely to go even though their polling station is actually at the agricultural center, Aceto said he is open to the idea.

“Let’s see how this election goes,” he said.

While Campbell and Aceto stayed to respond to informal questions from the crowd, Eggers left the meeting immediately after it was finished.

This election cycle would be the last chance for transfer stations, according to Hodges, because the newly enacted statewide voter ID law will do away with transfer stations and the counting of provisional ballots that are cast in the wrong precinct. The U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the law.

During the meeting, Campbell also voted against approval of the minutes for the Sept. 4 meeting, during which the board voted 2 to 1, with Campbell opposing, to move the polling place at ASU from the student union to the Legends building. ASU official Dave Robertson and Hodges said during the September meeting that the building was prone to flooding and had no backup power. When asked to say which was better – the student union or the Legends building – both picked the student union.

The minutes for the meeting leave out that exchange, an omission that led to a question by Campbell: “Wouldn’t it be impossible for people to know” about the full discussion?

Eggers and Aceto each responded by saying that the minutes should reflect the business of the board.

Credit: The Winston-Salem Journal

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