of State Connie Lawson (R) has called for the resignation of two Porter
County officials, following a report on Porter County’s 2018 general
election by Ball State’s Voting Systems Technical Oversight Program (VSTOP).
report, Lawson called for Democrat Director of Voter Registration Kathy
Kozuszek (D) and Election Board member J.J. Stankiewicz (D) to resign.
The 2018 general
election in Porter County was rife with problems that included 13 polling
places opening late for a lack of poll workers, thousands of absentee
ballots not being delivered on time or counted, and final results delayed
for three days.
occurred after the County Election Board transferred election duties from
the Voter Registration Office to the office of the County Clerk. Former
Clerk Karen Martin (R) had never run an election before, and was on the
ballot herself for County Auditor.
Problems leading up
to the election, including an instance of poll worker error at the Portage
early voting site, poll worker complaints, and shouting matches at Election
Board meetings, as well as the events of Election Day, prompted a
risk-limiting audit (RLA) by VSTOP and an investigation by the Secretary of
VSTOP earlier this
month released its findings on the root causes of the election debacle,
which Lawson reviewed and subsequently commented on in a public letter to
new Porter County Clerk Jessica Bailey and Porter County legislators State
Sen. Karen Tallian (D) and State Rep. Ed Soliday (R).
The VSTOP team used
interviews with 27 individuals to gather information on the events of
Election Day, and made the following disclaimer: “As a caveat to considering
the information set forth below, the interviews were statements of
individual understandings of events leading up to and during the election
and should be interpreted with caution as some statements from the
interviews were rumor and innuendo.”
concluded that “turf issues” between the Voter Registration Office and the
Office of the Clerk compounded with issues of personal pride and vindictive
behavior between Martin and Kozuszek were at the center of the problems in
the Election. They reported that a “bitter feud” between Martin and Kozuszek
contributed to tensions and an eventual breakdown in communication between
the major political parties in Porter County.
In her letter,
Lawson wrote, “The nonpartisan character of VSTOP presents a challenge when
it comes to focusing on certain problems that, in my view, ought to be
highlighted. I therefore submit this letter in an effort to reveal the core
problems of Porter County’s 2018 General Election.”
Lawson blamed three
County officials--Martin, Kozuszek, and Stankiewicz, and a toxic atmosphere
they all fostered, for the bulk of the problems. Since Martin is out of
office after losing a bid for County Auditor, Lawson called for Kozuszek and
Stankiewicz to resign.
of the damage was scathing: "In my opinion, based on the testimony of 19
other interviews and several other accounts, as Indiana's secretary of state
and a former county clerk, none of these three individuals belong in or near
the election process.”
individuals each contributed to the dysfunction, miscommunication and
administrative incompetence that plagued the election process in Porter
County. Even though each was aware of potential problems leading up to the
election, personality conflicts, vindictive behavior and personal pride
prevented any action from being taken,” Lawson wrote.
“Not only did these
individuals put a heavy burden on dedicated employees within county
government who were attempting to execute their responsibilities properly,
they failed to meet the expectations and needs of Porter County voters,”
resigned Monday following further calls for his resignation after a video of
him shouting at new County Clerk Jessica Bailey just before a March 8
Election Board meeting went public. Though a separate incident, Lawson cited
the behavior in that video as evidence of Stankiewicz’s toxicity to the
Stankiewicz wrongfully accused local police officers of leaving ballots
unattended in the confusion of Election Day, and he never participated in an
interview with her about what went wrong after what she terms a “series of
evasive and puzzling emails” and rude correspondence with her Executive
As for Martin, the
VSTOP report suggests that Martin may have been concerned that asking for
help in the election would hurt her chances in her bid for Auditor and had a
lack of trust in the more experienced individuals around her.
The VSTOP team also
wrote, “It appears that Clerk Martin seriously underestimated the
complexities of overseeing a major election and this was compounded by her
reluctance to accept help from those who had more experience operating
Lawson wrote, “It
is unfortunate that Clerk Martin allowed her personal pride to prevent her
from executing her duties properly. Clerk Martin contributed to an ongoing,
bitter feud between herself and Ms. Kozuszek, and engaged in unprofessional
and uncooperative behavior, even during public meetings.”
placed a higher priority on proving Ms. Kozuszek wrong than in serving the
voters of Porter County, and refused help even when it was clear that the
County was ill-prepared for Election Day,” Lawson wrote.
As for Kozuszek,
Lawson wrote she is a key figure in Porter County’s election problems
because she “contributed to a wildly chaotic environment during the entire
General Election,” went “so far as to actively prevent official business
from taking place in order to prove a point,” and took no responsibility for
what went wrong on Election Day.
“In her interview,
Ms. Kozuszek laid the entirety of the election issues at the Clerk’s feet,
while admitting no wrongdoing or unprofessional behavior of her own, despite
multiple witnesses speaking to the contrary,” Lawson wrote. “Ms. Kozuszek
seemed to relish the negative consequences experienced by the County on
Election Day, unable to separate her extreme dislike of Clerk Martin from
her responsibilities as a public servant.”
recommendations for the County going forward. First, VSTOP suggest they be
allowed to observe the next two elections and conduct RLAs to audit any
races with margins of less than five percent.
They also suggested
the Clerk create a well-defined written protocol for handling absentee
ballots, create an updated election checklist, and hire additional staff for
the election, and the County should consider counting absentee ballots at
one central location and adopting the use of vote centers to cut down on the
number of needed poll workers.
As for poll
workers, VSTOP recommended the County form its own poll worker manual, keep
a list of reliable back-up workers, train all workers in person, and not
involve the Voter Registration office in recruitment efforts.
The VSTOP team
noted that some of these changes have been proposed in legislation, HB 1217,
by Rep. Soliday. Lawson expressed full support for HB 1217 in her letter and
wrote that she in confident in the new Clerk’s abilities.