Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Election Board splits to reject cutting poll workers

Back To Front Page

By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter Election Board on Tuesday voted 2-1 to restore the number of poll workers to match the number for the 2012 primary elections.

The vote came after Democratic board member J.J. Stankiewicz debated with fellow board member and County Clerk Karen Martin, a Republican, over the merits of eliminating 120 to 136 workers.

Martin proposed the worker reductions in early March from the county’s 79 different polling locations and asserted that the move would bring about $20,000 in savings for the County. She said she decided where to cut based on the number of registered voters who actually went to polls in past primary and general elections.

Poll inspectors receive a compensation of $135 while clerks and judges are paid $110. Each worker is also given a $15 meal voucher.

One example Martin gives is that of Jackson Twp. Elementary School, the polling location for the five Jackson precincts, which had three inspectors, four judges and eight clerks in 2012. With two inspectors, four judges, and four clerks, the net savings would be $800.

Stankiewicz, who was absent from the meeting when Martin first made her proposal, said his concern was that the loss of workers would make it less convenient for voters and discourage them from turning out for the election. He asked if “saving a few shekels for County Government” was more important than a vote.

“Why would you roll the dice on a vote?” Stankiewicz said. “I’ve said it many times, efficiency does not work with democracy.”

Martin said voter turnout for the 2012 primary election was a low 21 percent but the same number of workers was used for the general election when there was a 64 percent turnout. The turnout for the previous mid-term elections for the primaries in 2010 was even lower -- 17 percent.

“It doesn’t make any sense when you look at the numbers,” she said.

Democratic Director of the Voters Registration Office Kathy Kozuszek opposed the decision to reduce poll workers as one of her issues in a complaint she submitted to the board, arguing that Indiana states it can only be done with a unanimous vote from the three Election Board members.

She also disputed Martin’s numbers, saying more workers are needed at precincts that have a significantly high number of voters.

Stankiewicz supported his argument saying that given that a majority of the workers are elderly, moving the large equipment with fewer people may not be physically possible.

That’s the point that got Board President and Republican member David Bengs to side with Stankiewicz.“That equipment is very heavy,” said Bengs. “If we’re going to save money, I don’t think staffing is the way to do it. I say the staffing should stay the same as it was (in 2012).”

Both Bengs and Stankiewicz voted to retain the 2012 numbers while Martin was opposed. She asked why eight clerks are needed at the Liberty Twp. Middle School auditorium polling location when the voter turnout for the 2012 primary was 497 out of 2,365 registered voters. She believes two will be sufficient.

Kozuszek said bringing back the workers would have to wait until next election because the pay figures with the cuts by Martin had already been sent to the county auditor’s office.

Bengs, however, said the board will see that that the figures are revised.

In a related matter, Stankiewicz questioned the board’s decision last month to purchase 18 electronic poll books, another venture Martin advocated.

He moved not to use the machines as he has heard that the Lake County Election Board decided against utilizing them. He wants to find out what those reasons were before committing to their purchase.

The technology from vendor Election Systems and Software has been certified for use in Indiana but only two out of 92 counties had them tested, according to Stankiewicz.

The e-poll books have arrived but will not be used for the primary election. County Election officers will train on them over the summer. Martin said the goal is to eventually have all precincts in the County using them.

Kozuszek speculated Martin was going to be using the e-poll books for the upcoming primary which she said violated Indiana Senate Bill 385 which states all precincts must use e-poll books if they are purchased, not just some of them.

Stankiewicz said the board should do its due diligence in talking to the County Council and Commissioners on a funding plan for the machines.

Campaign signs complaint

At the end of the meeting, Bengs allowed those sitting in the audience to address the board.

Valparaiso Republican Kenard Taylor brought pictures of campaign signs belonging to Democratic candidates in the County Clerk, Sheriff, Recorder and Portage Assessor races that did not have the words “for” or “elect” with the office they are running for.

Taylor said that gives the false appearance that they are in fact a public official which is in violation of the law. Signs like Councilman Jim Biggs’s and Karen Martin’s don’t require the extra wording because they are the incumbents.

He told the board members he wouldn’t ask that the candidates be fined but notified they need to have their signs changed.

Meanwhile, County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Chidester said the law also forbids titles such as “President” or “Major” from appearing on campaign displays.

In another matter, Porter resident Jennifer Klug read aloud e-mails between her and an Indiana Public Access counselor regarding the out-the-door lines during the March 14 election board meeting held in a small meeting room of the County Administration Building.

The access counselor said that if a board or commission is anticipating a large crowd, it should make efforts to accommodate the public wanting to observe the meeting.

Bengs told Klug the board will try to comply with the suggestion for future meetings.

 

Posted 4/9/2014