Election overseers

All aboard: Black Mountain lawyer John Watson (center) joins fellow Republican Robert Knapp (left) to serve on the Buncombe County Board of Elections. Democrat Lucy Smith (right) remains on the board, with Watson as chair. photo by Max Cooper

A newly appointed Buncombe County Board of Elections held its first meeting Aug. 12 without discussing one member's controversial push last month to fire Elections Director Trena Parker.

John Watson, a lawyer who lives in Black Mountain, was nominated to the board by the Buncombe County Republican Party and appointed Aug. 12 to serve as its chair. The party's previous choice, Jack Westall, refused to serve on the board in protest of fellow GOP member Robert Knapp's effort to remove Parker from her job.

Last month, Knapp told the Asheville Citizen-Times that he blames Parker for Republican Christina Kelley G. Merrill's 17-vote loss in the District 2 commissioner race, which gave Democrats a majority on the board of commissioners. However, the bipartisan N.C. Board of Elections voted unanimously in December to dismiss Merrill's charges that local officials violated any laws in counting the ballots of Warren Wilson College students, whose votes likely gave Democratic candidate Ellen Frost her slim margin of victory. Knapp, a semiretired CPA, ran for commissioner last year in District 3 but was defeated in the primary.

Immediately after the Aug. 12 meeting, Knapp told Xpress he would not comment on his previous effort to remove Parker or share updated thoughts on her job performance. Watson also declined comment to Xpress, noting that there was "no discussion" of the issue during the meeting and "no pending action."

Instead, the board voted unanimously to authorize five early voting locations for this fall's municipal elections, which include races in Black Mountain, Weaverville, Woodfin and Montreat. Early voting will be available in downtown Asheville at the Election Services Department, at various local libraries in and the Asheville Mall in East Asheville.

Board members also unanimously decided to take up the state BOE's offer to use an experimental new ballot-printing system at those locations. Parker told the board that the devices will save the department time and money by allowing workers to print ballots on site as needed.

"It's going to make the voting experience a lot better," added Knapp, who was appointed to serve as the board's secretary.

In addition, they unanimously decided to change a handful of voting locations during the Nov. 5 general election, directing Parker to make sure all affected voters are notified ahead of time by mail.

Rounding out the three-member board is incumbent Democrat Lucy Smith, who supported Parker last month when Knapp tried to oust her.

The partisan makeup of county boards of election are determined by the incumbent governor. Under former Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, the local board was made up of two Democrats and one Republican. Now, under newly elected Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, two Republicans were authorized to serve by the state.

Despite the initial controversy, Smith said she hopes the new board members will work well together. "On our previous board, we became friends, and I hope that will be the case with this board," she noted. In his new position as chair, Watson said he hopes "to bring some reconciliation" to the board, adding, "I hope we can build some bridges."

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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