Hat tip to Doug Chapin who reported that the North Carolina State Board of Elections has ordered the Watauga County Board of Elections to establish an early voting location on the Appalachian State University campus. (Full disclosure: I have been serving as the inaugural Daniel German Endowed Visiting Professor of Political Science at ASU from 2014-2016.)
Along with Doug, I followed this controversy during the 2014 general election, when I was on campus. I took photographs at the time of the Watauga County Administration Building, the single location proposed by the County to conduct early voting, and the Plemmons Student Union, the proposed alternative location. Unfortunately, these photos were lost along with my camera on a recent trip, so I will have to describe them from memory.
The problems with the County building are many–parking is quite limited, the room designated for early voting is not very large, and the alcove that would shelter waiting voters from the weather (no small consideration in the mountains) is quite small. Contrast this with the Student Union: there is a four story parking deck just across a sidewalk, the room used for early voting is a large ballroom in a much larger building that has good ADA access, restroom facilities, etc.
Most importantly, however, the Union sits adjacent to a large traffic circle that serves as a primary hub for the “AppalCart”, the only public transportation system available in the county (the system is a partnership between ASU and the County).
I did find some problems with the Union. I counted nine entrances to the building, and was able to find one tucked away in a corner that lacked the requisite “no canvassing” sign. In addition, because the room for early voting is inside a larger building, it is not clear whether the “no canvassing” boundary starts from the outside of the building (encompassing the whole building) or from the door that actually enters the ballroom. Do students (or others) wearing politically themed t-shirts inside the building, for example, violate the “no canvassing” rule?
The political patterns in the county are very clear, however. The central part of Watauga (City of Boone) is younger, more likely to be unaffiliated, and vote Democratic at a much higher rate. The outer portions of the county are older and more Republican. Some quick graphics based on 2014 registration statistics are shown here. Boone City is in the center of the map. The link to the state statute that gives the SBOE this power is here.