BOONE — As the Watauga County Board of Elections mulls over various polling site possibilities for the November elections to allow for social distancing, the fate of the early voting and election day polling site at the Appalachian State University Plemmons Student Union is unknown.
At the board’s June 9 meeting, Watauga County Board of Elections Director Matt Snyder said he had spoken with university representatives who expressed a “high priority” of having students return to campus for classes, which may mean using campus spaces not utilized in the past for classrooms. One of the spaces that could be utilized is the Blue Ridge Ballroom that has been previously used by election officials as a polling site.
Snyder said he planned on contacting Jason Marshburn — the university’s director of environmental health, safety and emergency management — to discuss what plans the university may be following or solutions the elections board can follow.
“I do think we need to look at other alternatives for this election,” said board member Eric Eller.
Eller suggested possibly using App State’s Student Recreation Center, while board member Nancy Owen mentioned using the Holmes Convocation Center — to which Snyder said the convocation center may present handicap accessibility issues.
“We understand they have a huge demand for space,” Snyder said. “We just want to see what they think is the best location for us.”
The board discussed the possibility of using Watauga County Schools facilities as polling sites during its May 13 meeting. Snyder said elections officials were still 50-50 on if schools would need to be used, and that WCS Superintendent Scott Elliott said the Watauga Board of Education would support the use of schools on Election Day. The school board would like a formal request letter and to be notified by the end of July of a decision made by election officials, Snyder said.
Board Chair Jane Ann Hodges also asked Snyder to look into the possibility of using space on the Watauga campus of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute for the Brushy Fork precinct.
The elections office has also been estimating cleaning and sanitizing costs during one-stop early voting. Snyder said he has questions in to state officials about what sanitation guidelines counties need to follow, such as if polling sites need to be re-sanitized or “fogged” with disinfectant at the end of each day.
According to Snyder, the Watauga County maintenance department agreed to clean the Western Watauga Community Center and county administration building each night, and the university said it would clean the student union if it’s used. This would leave elections officials with about three other one-stop sites to have cleaned, which could be anywhere from $100 to $300 each night for the roughly two weeks of early voting, according to Snyder. He added that the county might be able to use funding from the state’s allotment of the COVID-19 CARES Act money to pay for cleaning.
Snyder also mentioned that he was pleased with the funding allotted to the Board of Elections from the county, considering the financial challenges the county is facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The board was granted $421,743 of its $449,349 request from the county — a $54,673 decrease from the 2019-20 funding the board received.
“This is going to be more expensive this year than it probably ever has been for us,” Snyder said.
Snyder also said that the elections office is continuing to quarantine itself from the public the best it can. If community members need to come in to review paperwork or file forms, Snyder said office staff can meet them in the conference room. Staff were also looking into requesting a second office space to be able to comply with social distancing requirements.