On Oct. 26, members of the community, both old and young, gathered on Sanford Mall with the intention of protesting Watauga County Board of Elections member Bill Aceto. Aceto requested a stay of a Wake County Superior Court ruling allowing for the Plemmons Student Union to be used as an early voting site, in what has been an annual cause of political strife in Watauga County.
However, a last minute order from the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued on Oct. 25, denying Aceto’s appeal, changed the protestors’ agenda.
Unlike most, this gathering consisted of joyous speeches encouraging young people to get out and vote given by members of the Watauga Voting Rights Task Force and the Student Government Association.
Nick Williams, the SGA director of external affairs, opened the event and said, “It was a protest, now it is a celebration.”
Although this battle appears to have a happy ending, the road to establishing the student union as an early-voting site was anything but simple and was fought until the very last minute.
Voting in the student union is nothing new, as it was used from 2006 up until 2014 when the Republican-dominated Board of Elections voted 2-1 against any on-campus early voting sites. It happened again in 2016 after Chancellor Sheri Everts wrote directly to Aceto requesting the student union to be used as an early voting site.
This year, during a Watauga Board of Elections meeting on Aug. 22, it seemed as if history was doomed to repeat itself when Aceto was able to kill the decision to utilize the student union as an early voting site.
Then, in what seemed like a beacon of light for this year’s early voting, Board of Elections member Democrat Stella Anderson petitioned an alternate plan for a one-stop on campus voting site, in which a Wake County Superior Court ruled in favor of on Oct. 12.
A week later, Aceto shut out that light by requesting a stay on the court ruling.
Having voted against early voting sites on campus since being on the Watauga Board of Elections in 2013, Aceto supports his argument with loose statistics and complaints of proximity to the Watauga Courthouse. In reality, his reasoning appears to be traced to a fear of college students who make up nearly one-third of the county’s population and their left-leaning views.
According to the Watauga Democrat, the student union was the busiest early election site during the last presidential primary. The practicality paired with widespread knowledge of its location makes the student union an easily accessible location for college students, as well as Boone residents to cast their votes.
In a similar situation in 2014, Superior Court Judge Linda Stephens decided to move forward with an on-campus early voting site.
“The majority plan of the Watauga County Board of Elections on its face appears to have as a major purpose the elimination of an early voting site on the ASU campus,” Stephens said. “Based on this record, the court can conclude no other intent from that board’s decision other than to discourage student voting. A decision based on that intent is a significant infringement of students’ rights to vote and rises to the level of a constitutional violation of the right to vote.”
This voter suppression exhibited by Aceto is nothing less than an infringement of the 26th Amendment which states, “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” The fact that county officials are willing to scorn citizens’ constitutional rights in order to silence young voters should be reason enough to encourage people to get out and vote.
Voter suppression against young people has been a raging battle since the ‘70s and will continue to be a pressing issue for college students across the United States. What we can do as students of Appalachian State University to combat this suppression is to participate in local level politics.
True democracy starts with members of the community taking action at a local level, so get out and cast your voice.
Nate Fordyce is a freshman communication major Chicago, Illinois