BOONE — The Watauga County Board of Elections unanimously approved a schedule for one-stop early voting with varying hours and dates for its two sites during its July 23 meeting.
Voting at the designated “office site,” which is currently planned to be the Watauga County Administration Building, would take place on Oct. 16-18, 21-15 and Oct. 28 through Nov. 1 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The second site, located at the Appalachian State University Plemmons Student Union, would take place Oct. 21-15 and Oct. 28 through Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Session Law 2019-22, signed June 3, allows county election boards to have more flexibility with one-stop early voting in 2019. Previously, the law mandated sites be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and all sites must be open concurrently.
“This is something I want for this municipal election,” board chair Jane Ann Hodges said. “This will save big money.”
The plan was presented by Hodges and was met with agreement by fellow board members. A one-stop voting plan must unanimously pass the board with all members voting.
According to Executive Director of the Watauga Board of Elections Matthew Snyder, the law is only applicable for 2019 Elections and the previous requirements currently would be in effect for the 2020 Primary Elections, which will take place in February and March.
Hodges said in 2020, the board would likely go back to longer hours for the presidential election year.
During public comment, ASU Student Government Association representative Emily Hogan said they had passed a resolution supporting the Boone 2 precinct move from Legends to the Plemmons Student Union, which the board approved in April. Further, Hogan asked that the elections board make the student union a transitional site, allowing voters from other precincts to vote there without having to file a provisional ballot.
Currently, the ASU campus is divided into the Boone 2 and 3 precincts. The Boone 3 precinct voting location is at the Watauga County Agricultural Center, which Hogan said many students are unaware and said it’s difficult to reach due to the lack of sidewalk from Rivers Street. Hogan said that when Boone 3 residents who were ASU students previously voted at Legends, the former Boone 2 precinct location, they have had to fill out a provisional ballot.
Amanda Lago, an ASU student, also spoke in favor of making Boone 2 a transitional site and said it would decrease the use of provisional ballots.
Hodges said the board will look into making the Boone 2 precinct location a transitional site at a future meeting.
Snyder made a presentation on NCSBE’s precinct project, which he said has been in the works for several months. According to map Snyder showed the board, Watauga County’s 20 precincts appear to remain the same. Hodges and board member Eric Eller expressed relief, saying they were certain the precinct lines would change based on previous information they received from the state.
“This is just a miracle,” Hodges said of the precinct project map. “I think the Lord has blessed us cause I was expecting a nightmare.”
Snyder said he would continue to study the map, which he said became available hours before the meeting, to see if there were any small changes. Snyder said that any changes for 2019 would have to be sent to the NCSBE by Oct. 1.
Eller commented that there might need to be precinct changes after the 2020 Census, saying that the population has grown in Watauga County so much in the last few decades that the current maps might not reflect the current population shifts.
The board discussed the future of the North Fork precinct, including a potential change of Election Day venue.
Maryrose Carroll spoke during public comment on North Fork. Carroll said she’s been an elections worker for more than a decade at the North Fork Election Day precinct location in Edgar Eller’s garage and spoke in favor of a venue change.
Carroll said at the site, there are no public bathrooms, no internet access, no cell coverage to communicate with the elections office and no refrigeration for workers who bring their meals for the 13-hour day. Carroll noted that polling location officials have to break election rules in order to use the bathroom or make a call and said a worker was stung by a wasp during a previous election.
Hodges brought up the possibility of splitting North Fork into two smaller precincts, saying half the residents on the west end of the precinct have to drive through Tennessee and other precincts to get to Eller’s garage to vote.
Eric Eller, who said he’s of no relation to Edgar Eller, expressed his desire to hear from North Fork residents about how they would feel about any potential changes before making a decision.
The board approved a letter to be sent to Watauga County asking what funds would be available for snow removal at election sites both in the November 2019 municipal election and the March 2020 primaries. According to the letter, funds designated for the elections board to be used for snow removal were deleted from the 2019-20 county budget. The letter asks that Watauga County meet with elections office personnel and explain how snow removal will work if needed on upcoming election days.
Snyder told the board that according to a recent N.C. State Board of Elections’ memo, Avery and Caldwell residents in Blowing Rock, Seven Devils and Beech Mountain could technically vote in Watauga County on Election Day, but only if those counties bring their own voting equipment to those town’s precincts and be provided with a separate voting area. Board members said that was not the answer they were hoping to hear on the issue of municipalities being located in multiple counties.
A pothole at the parking lot entrance at the Boone National Guard Armory, the New River 3 polling location, will have to be addressed before Election Day, according to board members. Snyder said the National Guard should have taken care of it by now, but that has not been done.
The board voted to approve a contract with Charlotte-based AMT Datasouth to process and mail out voter card mailings.