Appeals court dismisses Watauga early-vote case as moot


RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — There’s no need to keep litigating a trial court’s order that an early-voting site be kept on the Appalachian State University campus for the 2014 election, a divided state Court of Appeals panel ruled Tuesday.

Two of the three Court of Appeals judges agreed the matter was moot because the 2014 election is long over.

The State Board of Elections had complied with the order of Wake Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens, who ruled in October 2014 that the board’s earlier decision to leave out the Appalachian State site appeared to discourage student voting and looked like a constitutional violation.

Although the board ultimately complied with Stephens’ order in the Watauga County case, state attorneys argue its early-voting decisions aren’t subject to judicial review and continued the appeal.

“The board’s position, as we understand it, is simply that it would like to know if its future adoptions of early voting plans for counties will be subject to judicial review,” Judge Ann Marie Calabria wrote for the majority. But she added that it’s not the place of the court to issue advisory opinions. “The board is surely asking us for advice we are not obliged to give.”

Judge Chris Dillon dissented, which means the state Supreme Court will review the decision if requested. Dillon wrote that issues brought up by the board are ripe for discussion.

“There is another election just around the corner, and the Watauga County Board will again be faced with whether their plan must provide a voting site on ASU’s campus,” Dillon wrote. This November’s elections include races for president, governor and U.S. Senate.

The state board was brought into the Watauga County case when the county’s three-member board couldn’t agree on an early-vote plan.

The state Attorney General’s Office didn’t immediately say whether the state board would appeal. Josh Lawson, the board’s general counsel, said the case was more than just procedural in nature.

“If any voter can sidestep normal court proceedings and ask Wake Superior Court to set voting sites across the state, I’d expect activists on both sides to make use of that this cycle,” Lawson wrote in an email.

In practice, a majority on the state board and on local boards of elections in all 100 counties are comprised of the party of the governor, currently Republican Pat McCrory. Democrats had controlled the boards for the 20 years before McCrory took office. County boards must approve early-voting plans unanimously for them to be enacted. If they can’t reach agreement, county board members can petition the state board to intervene, like what occurred in Watauga.

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