Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Chesterton early voting retained; Valpo dropped

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

For the record, early voting for the upcoming County Primary Elections will be available at Chesterton Town Hall, 726 Broadway, starting on Tuesday, April 8.

There will be another early voting center at the North County Government Complex, 3560 Willowcreek Rd., in Portage. Both locations will have the same hours -- 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday, April 8 to May 5 at noon, and on Saturdays, April 26 and May 3.

This year, however, there will be no early voting offered at the Porter County Voters Registration Office located in the County Administration Building in Valparaiso, or anywhere else in the central or southern portions the county.

The County Election Board met Friday to finalize its decision on early voting after the previous week’s meeting heard the concern that holding voting inside the Voters Registration Office, where County Clerk Democrat candidate Kathy Kozuszek works as the Democratic Director, would open the possibility of electioneering.

The same concern goes for Kozusek’s Republican opponent, incumbent County Clerk Karen Martin, because she has an office at the Portage complex where early voting would be held. Martin is running for a second term.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, had suggested opening another room in the Administration Center for voting and to use the Health Department space in Portage.

One location of the county clerk of the circuit court’s office must be open for early and absentee voting, board attorney Ethan Lowe said. To establish any satellite location requires a unanimous vote from the three-member board, he said.

Katrina Spence, who is filling in as proxy for absent Democratic board representative J.J. Stankiewicz until May, opposed having any space in the Administration Building except for the Voters Registration Office. She was the sole no vote in a motion by Republican board members Martin and chairman David Bengs to use Room 307 in the building.

Bengs and Martin felt that it would be a violation of the law to have early voting in the Voters Registration office because it would take place where a candidate is present. They both voted against the motion to have Voters Registration as an early voting location.

With no other suggestions, the board forfeited having early voting in the Administration Building. But it did end up voting 3-0 in favor of a previous meeting’s motion naming Chesterton Town Hall as a site and also to move the Portage location to the health department offices at the North County Complex.

Bengs said it is too close to the official start of early voting Ð Tuesday, April 8 Ð to look for other locations. In order to establish a site, location space must be inspected for physical accessibility and permission must be given by the building overseers.

The action drew ire from a large gathering of Democrats lined up in support of Kozuszek who was not present at the meeting. Among those in attendance were State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, and County Council members Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and Sylvia Graham, D-at large.

Although open to the public, the meeting did not include a public comment portion.

Parties argue about law

Afterwards, Porter County Democratic Committee Chair Jeff Chidister argued with Evans over the laws regarding electioneering, or the persuasion of voters in a political campaign. Chidester contended that simply having the candidate around the voting area does not constitute as electioneering while Evans argued the opposite.

Evans, along with County Republican Chair Michael Simpson, said state statute does not allow a candidate in a voting place except to vote and that electioneering cannot take place within 50 feet of a poll. Just a simple glare from Kozuszek could influence the decision of a voter, Evans said.

Chidester said the Republicans are “trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” and that “99 percent of the voters” don’t know what Kozuszek or Martin look like.

Chidester contended that Kozuszek has shown commitment to fair and honest elections continually during her 15 years working in the Voters Registration office. He said Kozuszek was working there when she ran as a candidate for Porter Town Council in 2003 and no one raised a concern about electioneering.

“There was never a question about it then,” he said.

He said that if it were discovered that a Democratic worker committed an act of electioneering, no matter how great or small, they would be fired on the spot.

“I take these elections very seriously. We want to have integrity and for the process to be transparent,” Chidester said.

Locks

The board ended up not discussing the matter of Martin having the locks changed last Monday after Kozuszek reported a possible theft in the Voters Registration office.

Chidester did however ask Martin after the meeting if all employees would get new keys to which she replied in the affirmative. Martin has been unlocking the doors herself in the morning to let the employees in.

Electronic poll books

In other business matters, the board split 2-1 to purchase 15 electronic poll books and four printers from Electronic Systems & Software to be used in the upcoming May 6 primary, the same vendor the County already is in contract with for voting machines.

Martin said at the March 7 meeting that the new e-poll books and printers can eliminate printing of extraneous ballots that end up being tossed out. She said that in the 2010 and 2012 primary and general elections, the combined total spent on “wasted” ballots was $84,974.

E-poll books can scan a person’s driver’s license or photo ID, verify signatures, and assign a ballot more quickly than a poll worker could look it up in paper-based poll books.

Martin and Bengs said that ballots could be ordered according to the turnout figures for each polling place and if a location runs out, the printer will be ready to make copies quickly.

Spence voted against the purchase saying she did not know enough about the equipment and referred to a state law that says the number of ballots delivered must be 100 percent equal to the registered voters in a precinct.

But Martin and Bengs asserted that ballots can be printed with the e-poll books and printer system ensuring that each voter will be able to receive a ballot.

Bengs said the new equipment has been certified by the Indiana Secretary of State’s office and other counties in the state have used e-poll books in past elections.

 

 

Posted 3/17/2014