Student voting rights have been a contentious issue in recent years at App State.
There has been a long history of disagreement between a Democratic leaning student body and Watauga County residents, who are more often Republican, said Democratic county election board member Stella Anderson.
“There is a history of county residents not necessarily understanding the law or not necessarily in agreement with the law about students’ rights to be registered in this county,” Anderson said.
This conflict came to a head this year in competing visions for the location of the voting site, with Republican Board of Elections chair Bill Aceto pushing for it be Legends and Anderson’s plan to keep it in Plemmons Student Union.
The State Board of Elections essentially left the decision in the hands of the school as they would allow early voting at Legends as opposed to the student union if Chancellor Sheri Everts would provide use of, as Anderson argues, a revenue generating facility.
If a county plan does not have unanimous support amongst the county board it is sent to the State Board of Election for review. The state board gave the university the final say in whether or not Legends could be used as a voting site.
The chancellor ultimately decided to keep early voting in the student union.
When early voting in Boone began in 2001, voting was split into two precincts. One precinct would vote in the basement of First Baptist Church at the corner of King Street and College Street and the other precinct would vote in Farthing Auditorium which is now known as the Schaefer Center.
At first, early voting was not incredibly popular.
When Anderson became a member of the county election board in 2005, she pushed for an early voting site on campus specifically at the student union.
Since Anderson became a member of the board, early voting has taken place at the student union in the general, midterm and presidential elections from 2006 to 2012 and most municipal elections occurring in odd-numbered years.
When Aceto became chair of the board in 2013 he moved to eliminate early voting in the student union during the 2014 primary.
In order to return early voting to the student union for the 2014 general election, Anderson said she led a group of Watauga in suing the state election board.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled in favor of an on-campus voting site.
“The early voting plan submitted by the majority members of the Watauga County Board of Elections was arbitrary and capricious,” Stephens said in a court-issued statement. “All the credible evidence indicates that the sole purpose of that plan was to eliminate an early voting site on campus so as to discourage student voting and, as such, it is unconstitutional.”
In spite of the court ruling, there has still been contention over an on-campus early voting site during this election.
For the 2016 primary, the Republican majority of the county election board opted to relocate the early voting site off campus once again.
This time however, the state board went with Anderson’s plan to leave early voting at the student union in light of the 2014 court ruling.
Anderson said that when Aceto proposed Legends as an early voting site in July of this year for the 2016 general election it was the first time that he proposed an on-campus site for any election.
Despite the recent successes of keeping the early voting site at the student union, Anderson said students still face unique challenges to casting their ballots.
If students did not register to vote by Oct. 14, they must make use of same day registration and provide proof of residency in Watauga County before they vote.
This proof must be a government mandated document that was issued in the past 90 days.
Therefore, emails sent out to students on July 13 notifying them of their room assignments are not valid, and Anderson said there is no other document satisfying the requirements on AppalNet.
Anderson said she resolved this issue by proposing that the student housing department send out new emails in time for the election.
The new address must also be a valid mailing address.
Leases for off-campus students will not be valid either as private leases are not government mandated.
A utility bill issued by the city can be used, but Anderson said many leases have utilities included in the pricing.
If a proof of residence cannot be provided, an ID with a Watauga address must be provided and Anderson said it’s relatively common to not provide a new address on a driver’s license.
Same day registration ends on the last day of early voting on Nov. 4 and will not be allowed on election day.
“This is a difficult system to navigate for first time voters,” Anderson said.
Anderson Clayton, Student Government Association director of external affairs, said that she will continue to advocate for the student union as a voting site and the central location for all of Watauga County.
She also wants to continue to promote voter registration.
Through her and the SGA’s efforts over 4,000 new voters were registered in 2016 alone.