Opinion: App State Should Not Support Suppressing Student Votes


Ella Adams, Managing Editor

Campus political organizations rarely agree on anything. But, the Student Government Association, College Democrats, College Republicans and Turning Point USA all agree: the Plemmons Student Union should be used as an early voting site. On Aug. 31, the North Carolina State Board of Elections declared the union an early voting site. Two Republican members of the Watauga County Board of Elections, Eric Eller and Nancy Owen, filed a lawsuit arguing the legality of the decision. Students and faculty across campus raised concerns about losing the union as an early voting site. Over 1,300 students signed a petition to keep the polling place and  Faculty Senate chair Michael Behrent, expressed his support in a letter to Chancellor Sheri Everts.

         The Eller-Owen lawsuit is a petty, partisan attempt to suppress App State student voters. In July, Eller sent a letter to the Chief of the App State Police Department, Andy Stephenson, expressing concerns about voter safety due to “escalating protests designed to disrupt such activities.” He cited the letter from the Black at App State Collective addressed to university administration regarding the treatment of Black students. Eller’s letter to Stephenson is a clear attempt to cause unwarranted panic surrounding Black at App State demonstrations. Stephenson himself tells Eller “we had no information to indicate there would be any attempt to disrupt the election process at polling sites on campus.” Eller’s letter and his involvement in the lawsuit is no coincidence. The lawsuit is an attempt to suppress voters.

App State administration’s dismissal of the voting site is disappointing. Matthew Dockham, Director of External Affairs and Community Relations, says early voting in the PSU Blue Ridge Ballroom “will displace classes for hundreds of students.” Only eight classes will be disrupted and at least three of those classes are hybrid. Classes held in the ballroom could easily be moved online or moved to another location in the union for the early voting period from Oct. 15 to Oct. 31. If the administration is concerned about COVID-19, it is safer to have online classes anyway. It would not be outrageous to accommodate classes held in the Blue Ridge Ballroom elsewhere if it meant students had an accessible place to vote.

Additionally, Dockham states, “the university (supports) the voting plan that named Holmes as the on-campus voting site.” Holmes Convocation Center as an early voting site is not a reasonable alternative. During the period of early voting, 5 volleyball games will also be taking place in the Convocation Center. The games will disrupt voting and vice versa. The majority of students, especially underclassmen, are not as familiar with the Convocation Center as the Student Union since events are not being held due to COVID-19. Moving the voting location will only make casting a ballot more difficult.

The university should support and encourage students to vote and not support a lawsuit intended to suppress student votes. In his statement, Dockham says, “Appalachian State University is non-partisan and unequivocally supports on-campus voting.” If this is true, the administration will file an amicus brief that opposes the Eller-Owen complaint and keep the student union as an early voting site. With various campus political organizations, 1,300 petitioners and the faculty senate united, App State administration should act in the interests of the students and do what is necessary to keep the union site.