Over an emergency teleconference Wednesday, dead ahead of North Carolina’s in-person early voting window, the State Board of Elections added a voting site to the grounds of Appalachian State University.
That was to comply with a newly upheld Superior Court order to include the Boone campus in the early voting plan of the student-heavy Watauga County – but also before a surprise, last-minute ruling from the N.C. Supreme Court that relieved the state from complying.
Because the elections board already voted, though, the Supreme Court decision won’t impact the ASU site – in the Plemmons Student Union – unless the board calls another emergency meeting to change course. That seemed unlikely Wednesday night as early voting was set to begin Thursday morning.
The legal volley started with a Superior Court order from Wake County Judge Donald Stephens, who on Oct. 13 sided with a group of petitioning students that Watauga County should have an early voting site on campus, as it has in past years. The original plan this year, adopted by a majority on the county elections board and backed by the state, had listed five early voting sites, the closest of which was a half-mile from the school.
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Stephens found the not-on-campus plan unconstitutional and said that it seemed intent on discouraging the youth vote. The state quickly appealed, challenging the Superior Court’s jurisdiction over the State Board of Elections’ actions and discretionary decisions. While the Court of Appeals denied the state on Tuesday, upholding the enforcement of Stephens’ order and prompting Wednesday’s emergency teleconference of board members, the Supreme Court’s decision late Wednesday keeps the state’s case alive.
That means the Court of Appeals will hear it, but it’s unlikely to affect ASU’s early voting presence this year because of the timing. It may, however, answer similar constitutional and jurisdictional questions for other college campus early-voting plans – or lack thereof – in the future.