RALEIGH — A Wake County Superior Court judge has ruled that an early-voting site on Appalachian State’s campus can proceed for the 2017 municipal elections, participants in the case confirmed.
The decision came from Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley II — appointed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015 — who on Wednesday heard a petition for review filed by Stella Anderson, the Democratic member of the three-person Watauga County Board of Elections.
Anderson sought review of a one-stop early voting plan for sites at the Watauga County Administration Building and the Plemmons Student Union on the ASU campus, which she and Republican Watauga Board of Elections Member Nancy Owen voted to support back in August. But Republican county board Chairman Bill Aceto voted against the plan, causing it to fail because state elections staff had advised that three votes were required to pass early-voting plans this year.
Anderson first petitioned the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement — which currently has no members due to a pending lawsuit — to adopt and implement an early voting plan for Watauga County, and she then sought a review from the Wake Superior Court when the staff at the state office took no action on her petition.
“The court found that the state board would ordinarily have been obligated to hear Anderson’s petition, but couldn’t because no members have been appointed. Without that option, the court established a one-stop plan for Watauga,” said Josh Lawson, general counsel to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, in an email. “We appreciate Judge Graham Shirley’s careful consideration in this uniquely challenging case.”
The N.C. State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement office, through spokesman Patrick Gannon, said it would not appeal.
Anderson said on Thursday that the ruling means that the Watauga Board of Elections office can go ahead with a one-stop early-voting site on campus since the majority of elections board members approved of it.
Anderson noted that last year, ASU Chancellor Sheri N. Everts said in a letter to the Watauga Board of Elections that the only site suitable for one-stop early voting would be at ASU’s Plemmons Student Union and no other on-campus site.
“I think it’s important that we have an established campus early-voting site and that voters come to expect that whatever the election is, they have a campus site for that,” Anderson said.
Sabra Faires and Bill Gilkeson of the Raleigh firm Bailey & Dixon LLP represented Anderson in the case.
“We’re delighted and proud that we have stood up repeatedly, for four years, on these voting rights issues,” said Pam Williamson, a local Democrat and member of the Watauga County Voting Rights Task Force, who took part in the case. “We perceive this as justice for everyone. We do not look at this as a partisan effort on our part. We look at it as a voting right issues for everyone, whether old or young.”
Nathan Miller, Watauga GOP vice chairman and lawyer with Miller & Johnson, PLLC, in Boone, argued the case on behalf of Aceto, who was granted intervening status in the case.
Miller questioned Shirley’s authority to make a decision, saying a Wake County judge doesn’t know the lay of the land in Watauga County. Miller also said that the decision was made erroneously, claiming Shirley’s “finding of facts came off an unverified petition.”
“As soon as the judge signs his order, we’re filing an appeal to the N.C. Court of Appeals,” Miller said.
“I’m disappointed in the ruling,” Aceto said. “Hopefully the (N.C.) Court of Appeals will be able to enforce the law as written by the General Assembly.”