BOE submits two plans for campus voting site, no site confirmed

Moss Brennan, Reporter

Though the 2020 elections are nearing, the voting site used on App State’s campus for the March primaries may change. 

The Watauga County Board of Elections is sending two voting site plans to the North Carolina State Board of Elections. 

The plan with the most votes, approved at the Tuesday night meeting, requests the Plemmons Student Union as a site in either the solarium or Blue Ridge Ballroom. The other plan suggests the Holmes Convocation Center. 

“Nothing is confirmed until the state board makes their decision,” said director of Watauga County BOE Matt Snyder. 

The state board will meet Aug. 31 to decide on the plans. 

Snyder said App State’s administration has worked with the BOE for the last few months to determine a voting location on campus. 

App State spokeswoman Megan Hayes said Paul Forte, vice chancellor for business affairs, said that the Holmes Convocation Center will be made available for county use. 

All meeting spaces on campus, including all rooms in the Plemmons Student Union, are being repurposed as classrooms and learning spaces for the semester, Hayes said. 

“This is necessary in order to provide adequate classroom spaces as all classrooms and labs are being set up to maintain six feet of distance between students,” Hayes said.

Some BOE members shared concerns Tuesday about the ability to secure the Holmes Center because of its large space and high foot traffic with classes taking place. 

Hayes said the administration feels the convocation center is best because it is well-known, easily identifiable, and has nearby parking, wheelchair accessible and space for social distancing. 

At the BOE meeting, more than 10 people showed up to voice their opinion about on-campus voting sites. 

Some spoke in opposition to the Blue Ridge Ballroom as the voting site. 

“I oppose the Blue Ridge Ballroom. Actually, I oppose voting on any place in campus,” said Watauga County resident Jean Studeman. “We don’t want to take students’ rights away. What I want to know is where will the students live when they graduate from here at ASU? I doubt many will ever stay here.” 

Studeman also said senior citizens, like herself, find it hard to navigate around campus. She also mentioned that people could potentially mix with students and be exposed to the virus. 

“I hope that the board can find an acceptable place for everybody, but I really do concern myself more with the citizens here in the area who continue to stay here, who pay taxes. Give them an accessible place to vote,” Studeman said. 

Another county resident, Ann-Marie Yates, said at the meeting that the line to vote can sometimes grow to one hundred people long. 

“If we have to social distance, that means that line will be 600 feet long,” Yates said. “That is an incredible amount of time and distance to stand in line for our older community and also violates the 50 foot boundary for electioneering.” 

North Carolina State Board of Elections states that people cannot electioneer within the area immediately outside of the front entrance of a voting place. That area is typically 50 feet. 

Electioneering is defined by as “to work for the success of a particular candidate, party, ticket, etc., in an election.”

Yates also said older people would be asked to go into a space with a narrow hallway with young people “who may be the very reason this virus is spreading.”

“This disenfranchises our older community,” Yates said. “If every vote matters, then we need to find a space where everyone feels comfortable voting.”

Many also spoke in support for the voting site to remain in the Blue Ridge Ballroom. 

“I really believe that our voting site should be kept at the Plemmons Student Union,” said Emily Hogan, junior political science major. “I think consistency in a voting site is important.”

The Blue Ridge Ballroom was the campus voting site in 2016 where 6,482 people voted. Over 4,700 people voted there in the 2018 general election. 

Dalton George, a junior political science major, also spoke in support of the Blue Ridge Ballroom voting site. He also created a petition to keep the site, garnering over 1,300 signatures as of Saturday.

“I was especially disheartened to hear that the university wanted to move the site given how we are faced with so many uncertainties, students at least deserve to know they have an accessible site,” George said. “We need this site again, consistency as a voting location is key to ensure accessibility.” 

Hayes also said the administration is confident the convocation center meets the criteria in the petition and if it is selected by the State Board of Elections, they are “ready to assist the Watauga County Board of Elections to ensure voters are aware of the new location.”

“Appalachian is steadfast in its commitment to collaborating with the Watauga County Board of Elections in order to establish a voting site on the campus of Appalachian State,” Hayes said. “We recognize the enormous responsibility the Board of Elections has to ensure all voters can perform their civic duty.”

Early voting for the 2020 general election goes from Oct. 15 to Oct 31. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 9.