BOONE — A lawsuit over alleged comments during a Watauga County Board of Elections meeting in April has been filed by a former election poll worker.
According to the complaint filed on Sept. 21, Melanie Byrd Hollar claims that then-elections board Chair Jane Ann Hodges, a Democrat, spoke during an April meeting of the board against her re-appointment.
“(Hodges) stated to other board members and staff that she did not feel comfortable with (Hollar) working the election because that judge and her (now-deceased) mother used to plant drugs on people and that (Hodges) was worried if (Hollar) was allowed to work at the polls that (Hollar) would plant drugs in people’s cars while they were voting,” the lawsuit claims.
A search of North Carolina criminal records did not reveal any past charges against Hollar other than traffic violations.
Hollar’s attorney, Nathan Miller, said, “According to the board member I interviewed it was said in an open meeting,” and added, “The statement of course didn’t make the minutes.”
Hodges declined to comment on the case.
Hodges is the former director of the Watauga County Board of Elections office, retiring in 2015 after 30 years. Hodges was appointed as a Democratic member of the board on March 26, with Hodges serving as chair of the board until July; she now serves as vice chair. Current state law mandates yearly changes to county election board chairs on a partisan basis.
The suit alleges that as a result of Hodges’ statements, the board refused to hire Hollar for the 2018 primary election, and she was subsequently informed of the decision on April 10, one day before election training started. Subsequently, Hollar claims she was informed of the alleged comments in late August or early September.
Hollar claims losses of $2,160 by not being able to work the primary early-voting period and because she had rearranged her normal work schedule as a nurse to accommodate the workload. The plaintiff asks for damages in excess of $25,000 for slander per se and slander per quod, plus “reasonable attorney’s fees.”
“We filed it because Melanie was very hurt by the allegations, and they’re false allegations,” Miller said. “It’s outrageous that someone in a position of power would do this.”
Miller is also vice chairman of the Watauga County Republican Party and a past nominee for the Watauga County elections board, most recently in 2016.
Hodges and her lawyer Sean Perrin of Womble Bond Dickinson of Charlotte — whose firm has represented Watauga County in previous legal matters — filed a motion to dismiss the suit for “lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim which can be granted, on the basis of sovereign immunity.”
The motion to dismiss will be brought before a Watauga County judge on Nov. 5 at 10 a.m.
Perrin said he wouldn’t comment on the case until after the court rules on the motion to dismiss.
On Oct. 23, Miller also filed requests for depositions from Watauga County Board of Elections Executive Director Matthew Snyder, employee Donna Houck and board secretary Eric Eller.