BOONE — With a vote of four to one, discussion about the potential move of two precinct voting locations was tabled on March 12 by the Watauga County Board of Elections until a later meeting.
The meeting was the first for the new five-member board. Before the previous election boards were disbanded in December 2018 following an October 2018 court order declaring the state election board makeup unconstitutional, the county boards had four members — two Democrats and two Republicans.
The Watauga elections office announced on March 8 that Jane Ann Hodges was selected by Gov. Roy Cooper as the new chairwoman of the Watauga County Board of Elections. Alongside Hodges on the board are Democrats Marvin Williamsen and Matthew Walpole and Republicans Nancy Owen and Eric Eller. Hodges, a Democrat, gives the board a 3-2 Democratic edge. The five members were sworn into their roles at the beginning of the March 12 meeting.
Eller, Owen and Hodges served on the Watauga elections board throughout 2018. Williamsen was appointed to the previous board in October 2018. Owen and Hodges both served as chairs, as stipulated by the previous law that rotated the board chair from a Democrat to a Republican.
The board then discussed a resolution to move the Election Day polling place in the Boone 2 precinct from Appalachian State University’s Legends’ club on Hardin Street to the ASU Plemmons Student Union on Howard Street. This resolution and another to move the New River 3 precinct Election Day voting location from Mount Vernon Baptist Church on Bamboo Road to the National Guard Armory on Hunting Hills Lane were proposed by Hodges.
Hodges stated the reason for the Boone 2 precinct proposal was because the Legends location is prone to flooding, and suggested that the student union was better suited for the polling place. She then made a motion for the approval of the resolution.
However, Williamsen suggested tabling the discussion after Eller stated that approving both resolutions now would be counterintuitive. Eller said the state could be imposing new precincts on the county in the next several months, and did not want to approve the proposed resolutions until state decisions were made.
Eller added that it could be confusing to voters to tell them about the voting place changes only to change it again later if mandated by the state. With Boone 2 having approximately 3,941 voters and New River 3 with 3,657 voters, Eller calculated some of the costs associated with notifying voters of the change. Some of the figures he used were 52 cents per voter to send out a notification card, money associated with election staff time and other costs for postage.
“This undercuts every argument we have to make before the county commission on the budget,” Eller said. “It makes utterly no sense at this point in time from a practical standpoint. It’s a waste of time and a waste of money.”
Before the resolution for the New River 3 resolution was discussed, Eller, Williamsen, Owens and Walpole voted to table the motion until at least a May meeting. Hodges voted against this idea.
Hodges said she feels that now is the time, as far as work load in the elections office, to do these such changes. She said now is a slower time in the elections office and would give staff more time to accommodate for the changes.
In 2018, Hodges, proposed similar resolutions for Boone 2 and New River 3 precincts that failed along 2-2 party-line votes in July and August 2018, respectively.
Watauga County Board of Elections Executive Director Matthew Snyder said the county should have information from the state on any precinct changes no later than May. The county elections board would then have until July 5 to pick polling sites within the parameters set by the state. Hodges mentioned potentially hosting board work sessions to plan for polling sites if there are changes set by the state.