Veterans' photos removed from NC polling location
The News Herald, Morganton, N.C.
CONNELLY SPRINGS -- Photos of veterans are causing a kerfuffle during early voting.
Photos hanging in the basement of Connelly Springs, N.C., Town Hall were reflecting voting machine screens, said Elections board Chairman Trossie Wall, and people were walking behind the voters to take a closer look at the photos, so the Burke County Board of Elections requested the town cover the veterans' photos with paper.
When Connelly Springs Alderman Steve Smart, as the chairman of the town's building and grounds committee, declined to cover the photos, the board of elections took them down and banned Smart from the voting premises.
The board of elections has used Connelly Springs Town Hall as an early voting location for several years.
Smart said the pictures had not been an issue in past years, and he doesn't understand why they are an issue now.
"In my opinion, the pictures of these veterans are the reason that we are fortunate enough to have the privilege to vote, and I am very disappointed that the Chairman of the Board of Elections took the step of removing them," Smart wrote in an email to The News Herald.
Wall said, "We honor those people who served as veterans or who are presently serving on the military."
No one on the board of elections thinks veterans' contributions aren't worth lauding, Wall said, but the board is also dedicated to protecting people's voting rights.
Board of Elections Director Debbie Mace said the elections office is trying to protect the integrity of the election and ensuring the privacy of each voter, as ensured by state law.
Mace pointed to N.C. General Statutes 163-48, 163-129 and 163-166.3. The laws give elections chief judges and judges the authority to maintain order by preventing and stopping improper practices, outlines the structure and boundaries of the voting place (which is inspected and arranged by the board of elections) and limits access to the voting enclosure.
Wall said no one should come on to election grounds unless he or she is there to vote. The only exceptions are essentially for anyone who is authorized or appointed to assist with voting.
Mace, on behalf of Wall, sent the email at 12:16 p.m. Wednesday to the Town of Connelly Springs that noted Smart would not be allowed in the voting place.
The email said, (and the email is unedited here), "Regretably, over the last few days, Steve Smart has caused problems at the polling place to the point that we must notify you that he (Steve) is not allowed back in the polling place unless he is exercising his right to vote.
"Also, he (Steve Smart) is not to approach any employee (poll worker) of the Board of Elections without the consent of the Director, Debbie Mace or the Chairman, Trossie Wall."
Wall said the voting area is confined to the room where voting takes place and the designated buffer area. Smart could still enter the upper level of town hall and participate in town activities that are not within the voting area.
"Everything we've done with Mr. Smart, we've done it to protect the integrity of the election and the privacy of the voter," Wall said.
The lack of communication between the board and town regarding the rules of using town hall as a polling location is frustrating, Smith said. He faults both sides for the failure.
The room in the basement of town hall serves as one of the three early voting polling locations in Burke County. Early voting started Oct. 18.
The board of elections will re-hang the photos once early voting is completed, Wall said.