Monday, August 12, 2013
Watauga Co. Board of Elections, 8/12/13: The Long & the Short of It
The newly constituted county Board of Elections met this morning and, among other (non-controversial) moves, the two-man Republican majority voted to do the following (every vote was 2-1, with Democratic member Kathleen Campbell both objecting to the process and voting no when given the chance), a series of unprecedented and ground-shaking resolutions clearly meant to hamper voting, not improve it. The content of these resolutions was largely a mystery to the 70 or so citizens in the crowd, and the upshot of the various clauses in these resolutions was of major concern to Ms. Campbell, since she had not seen any of the resolutions prior to the meeting:
1. Rewrote the duties of the elections supervisor, specifying that Jane Anne Hodges is prohibited from being involved in "the discussion or debate of political or discretionary decisions [!]... regarding the location or number of polling places or early voting sites and hours." She is further required to keep a log "of all telephone calls and visitors," and must never be allowed to be in the elections office alone during any polling period.
2. Resolutions to establish a public comment provision: This new board decrees that only written comment will be acceptable.
3. One-Stop Implementation Plan for the 2013 municipal elections: ASU Student Union site, closed. One site only: Commissioner's Boardroom.
4. Resolution to combine three precincts, Boone 1, Boone 2, and Boone 3 into a single precinct with the polling place at the Agricultural Conference Center. This would put over 9,000 voters into a single mega-precinct, when state voting guidelines recommend no more than 1,500 voters per precinct.
5. Move the Meat Camp polling place to the new Meat Camp fire department and move the New River 3 precinct polling place from the Armory to Mutton's Crossing on Bamboo Rd.
The Long of It
The official meeting was called to order in the tiny conference room inside the Board of Elections, a room that will hold eight people, max, but which was packed with maybe 20 spectators, hovering over the conference table and the three board members, with another 50 or 60 people packed into the lobby and straining to hear.
The board members wisely decided to move the meeting back to where it was originally scheduled, the Commissioner's Boardroom in the Administrative Annex. But the move was not allowed until after the two Republicans elected themselves Chair and Secretary of the board. Kathleen Campbell, the lone Democrat, also took her time verbally spanking the the two Republicans for cutting her out of the information loop while evidently working behind the scenes and secretly with Anne Marie Yates, Chair of the Watauga County Republican Party and brother to Mark Templeton, candidate for Boone Town Council in the upcoming municipal elections. The resolutions that were suddenly sprung into view this morning were clearly -- transparently -- intended to make it easier for the Templeton ticket to win. "You boys should be ashamed of yourselves," Campbell said, to sustained applause.
Campbell said she had written emails over the weekend to both new Chair Luke Eggers and new Secretary Bill Aceto, requesting copies of the resolutions mentioned on the agenda that became public last Friday, but she received nothing in advance of this morning's meeting. Luke Eggers answered that he didn't want to be in violation of the open meetings act, which he thought he would be if he had answered Campbell's email, at which the large crowd burst out with guffaws at the irony of it. Campbell replied that this whole special meeting was in violation of the open meetings act.
Once the meeting was reconvened in the Commissioners Boardroom, which was soon almost full of spectators, the new board quickly got to the controversial resolutions, the first of which was the rewriting of Jane Anne Hodges' job description. Ms. Campbell kept insisting that the resolution be read aloud and discussed as to what had been changed, and Eggers/Aceto kept resisting the sharing of the resolution with the crowd, which grew increasingly restive and vocal about what seemed like a railroad (a badly run railroad at that). Finally, Jane Anne Hodges was allowed to identify what she saw as new in the list of duties, after a quick read -- because she too did not have an advance copy of the resolutions. The provision that decreed that Ms. Hodges could not be in the office alone once Early Voting began caused the most heartburn, as she is well known to work very long hours and wondered aloud about requiring -- and paying for -- another employee to always be there with her. Hanging in the air, and never openly addressed, was the implication that Ms. Hodges would do something dishonest if she were by herself, a patently offensive suggestion not based on anything but malice. "Did your brother [Four Eggers, attorney for the Republican majority on the County Commission and a past member of the Board of Elections] assist in the preparation of this document?" Campbell asked Luke Eggers, to which she got no direct answer. "I think this is an illegal action," Ms. Campbell said, after the Republicans passed their resolution, "and I hope we can take action to remedy it." Sustained applause.
The resolution to "establish public comment" again prompted Campbell to demand that the resolution be read aloud, since no one knew what was in it and since it did, after all, directly impact "the public." "I have not received any information on the public comment process that you're about to vote on. I think we should post this so that the public can read it and react to it before we enact it," Campbell said. "No one knows what's in it except you [Luke Eggers] and Bill Aceto," Campbell added. The crowd began chanting "Read it! Read it." Luke Eggers insisted that Campbell would have to make a motion to read the resolution before it could be read. Campbell made her motion. No one seconded it. Only the pandemonium in the room kept the two Republicans from voting on it at that point. Instead, they allowed Ms. Campbell to read it aloud. When she got to the clause that only written comments will be taken, the crowd erupted anew. Eggers said, "I appreciate the passion on these issues, but I urge you to keep decorum." A member of the audience then approached the podium and handed a slip of paper across to the board, saying, "You said you wanted written comments."
The resolution up-ending the one-stop implementation plan for the 2013 municipal elections, a plan that was already voted on and approved unanimously by the previous Board of Elections last June, a plan that set up two Early Voting sites including the Student Union at ASU, again had the audience groaning, shouting out, and applauding the comments of Ms. Campbell. The new plan -- if not literally written by Anne Marie Yates, was at least written for the benefit of her family in this upcoming election -- axes the Student Union Early Voting site. Ms. Campbell pointed out to "the boys" that they needed, according to statute, a unanimous vote to approve a new implementation plan, a fact that seemed to catch Luke Eggers off-guard. After consulting the statutes, Mr. Eggers admitted that indeed, without a unanimous vote, this plan would have to be sent to the state board for approval.
After the 2-1 vote, the audience began booing the Republican members.
The resolution to combine three Boone precincts with a combined registration of over 9,000 voters into a single mega-precinct ... More of the same: passed 2-1.
Moving New River 3's polling place from the National Guard Armory, which is central to the concentration of population in that precinct, to Mutton's Crossing, a building on Bamboo Road in the most unpopulated part of the precinct, drew this comment from Ms. Campbell: "This is damn stupid!" The Mutton's Crossing location also does not have room for the mandated 25-foot "buffer zone," making it impossible for candidates to meet the public and hand out literature.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post got one of the details of the new Early Voting Implementation Plan wrong, and that has now been corrected.