Emails show collaboration of state, local officials on voting site removal


The Appalachian Online

Laney Ruckstuhl

A member of the state Board of Elections collaborated with local officials on the controversial 2013 early voting plan, according to a report from the Associated Press that broke Tuesday.

The source for the AP’s analysis was a public records request from Pam Williamson, a Watauga County citizen and Democrat.

Emails released by the state BOE outline the communication between state board member Paul Foley and various county officials, released to the The Appalachian by Pam Williamson.

In an Aug. 5, 2013 email exchange, county attorney Stacy Eggers IV asked Foley to look over several proposals, including the one to combine the three precincts, in order “to save ourselves the embarrassment of being shot down by the board and having to eat crow.”

The plan passed on August 12, 2013 called for the consolidation of Boone’s three one-stop precincts into one at the Agricultural Conference Center intended to serve about 8,200 voters, according to an August 2013 Appalachian article. The plan did away with the university’s polling site.

In that same email, Eggers referred to the desire of the local board to “undo the parting shot of the Democrats board where they passed a one-stop plan on their way out the door.”

The Appalachian was unable to reach Stacy Eggers for comment.

Foley, in an Aug. 8, 2013 email, said state board Executive Director Kim Strach “took steps to make sure none of the parting shots from the departing boards were approved” and that the state board would likely not have a problem with the Republican’s plan “unless, something is out of whack with reality.”

Foley recently faced controversy over his failure “to recuse himself for over 17 months” from a campaign finance case in which his law firm has received funds from an individual under investigation, according to the AP.

Requests for comment from Foley, as well as Watauga County BOE members Luke Eggers and Kathleen Campbell were also not returned as of press time.

Williamson said she became suspicious that decision making among Republican officials was going on before meetings.

In March 2014, Williamson made a public records request for communications between state and local board members.

“I forgot about it,” Williamson said. “It was forever before they fulfilled the public records request.”

Williamson eventually received the 370 pages of emails in August 2014. Later that fall, she became one of seven plaintiffs, along with five Appalachian State students, to sue the State BOE for approving the local board’s voting plan.

News about the emails originally broke locally in a September 2014 Watauga Democrat article. Williamson said she believes the reason news did not spread farther because of the fact that so many other developments in the election story were occurring at that time.

A Wake County Superior court judge ruled in October 2014 that there must be an early voting site on the university’s campus and the board’s plan was an attempt to “discourage student voting,” according to court documents.

The case is currently on appeal, Williamson said.

“I hope this is a wake-up call for every university in this state to know this is calculated by people in power,” she said.

Ian O’Keefe, a former Appalachian state student and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he is “disappointed that this is what it comes down to, that we have to find out about these back door deals.”

“It is not what our country is about,” O’Keefe said. “It is not what North Carolina is about.”

Story: Kevin Griffin, Reporter