A final push to save Appalachian State University’s on-campus early voting site was denied at the end of August — ensuring students will have to make a 20-minute trek to an off-campus site during November’s midterm elections.
The State Board of Elections denied a Watauga County Board of Elections member’s appeal, on the basis that an on-campus voting site would be too inaccessible to the general community.
EARLY VOTING AT ASU
Debate surrounding on-campus early voting at Appalachian State University has persisted for a year:
- August 2013: Watauga County’s Board of Elections eliminated early voting at ASU’s student union. The N.C. Board of Elections upheld the vote.
- September 2013: The board moved the Election Day polling site to an on-campus night club.
- March 2014: The board voted to approve five early voting sites, none of them on ASU’s campus.
Students, faculty and staff will now have to vote early at a downtown site, about a mile from campus, at the Watauga County Administration Building.
ASU Student Body President Carson Rich said student government will aim to make the walk to the administration building fun and encouraging for students, including checkpoints along the way or rewards if students can show them an “I Voted” sticker.
“Students here are resilient, and we won’t let this stop us,” said Rich.
UNC-CH’s on-campus early voting site was moved from Rams Head Dining Hall to North Carolina Hillel on Cameron Avenue earlier this year.
Kathleen Campbell, the Watauga BOE member who made the appeal, said the other board members claimed that the administration building is not far away and that students are malingering if they say otherwise.
“Who are we to insist that (students and faculty) walk for 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, or 40 minutes, or take the bus for whatever distance, when they are telling us that they can’t and we have a viable alternative that they prefer?” she wrote in a letter she submitted to the (Raleigh) News & Observer on Aug. 23.
Campbell said in an interview that the building will not meet the needs of the expected 5,400 downtown voters, particularly because the site doesn’t offer enough parking.
The plan Campbell proposed to the Watauga board reassigned some of the staff from the downtown site to an additional site at the university’s student union, where they could section off 75 spaces. But Campbell said there is no further action she can take.
Gerry Cohen, now-retired special counsel to the N.C. General Assembly, said the decision to not allow an on-campus voting site was a deliberate inconvenience to students and people who don’t have cars.
Rich said he thinks the state BOE’s decision is a response to Watauga County’s large percentage of student voters, coupled with the fact that students vote largely Democratic.
“Quite literally people have died for the right to vote, and now the N.C. Board of Elections is making it difficult for students to vote because they’re scared that our students could sway things,” he said. “Even as someone who came from a conservative background I can see the wrong in this.”