A Wake County Superior Court judge has sided with a group of Appalachian State University students who were miffed that there wasn’t an early voting site on campus this year. Judge Donald Stephens on Monday kicked Watauga County’s plan back to the State Board of Elections for revision, ordered it to include “at least one” ASU early voting site, and agreed with the plaintiffs that the plan violated a constitutional provision against the discrimination of young voters. “I think it’s a great victory for voting rights,” said Bill Gilkeson, attorney for the seven plaintiffs, five of whom are students. Elections records show Watauga County has the highest percentage of student voters of any county in the state, while the plaintiffs’ petition for judicial review noted students make up 34 percent of the county’s population. “All credible evidence indicates that the sole purpose of that plan was to eliminate an early voting site on campus so as to discourage student voting and, as such, it is unconstitutional,” wrote Stephens in his order.
Stephens’ decision will not impact any other campuses that lost early voting sites this year, said Josh Lawson, spokesman for the State Board of Elections. However, if the state challenges Stephens’ decision in the state Court of Appeals, the ensuing decision would hold for other campuses, Lawson said. Both N.C. State University and Duke University lost campus early voting sites.
The Board of Elections is reviewing Stephens’ order with the attorney general’s office. If the order is not appealed, the elections board may call a special meeting to comply with it before early voting begins on Oct. 23, Lawson said.