Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Kozuszek accuses Martin of politics after locks changed at voters office

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin confirmed to the Chesterton Tribune that she had the locks changed on the entry doors of the Voters Registration office on Monday morning “for the security of the office,” due to a suspected case of theft there.

The Democrat Director in Voters Registration, Kathy Kozuszek, maintains for her part that the action is purely a political stunt on Martin’s part.

Kozuszek and Martin are set to square off in the County Clerk race in the November general election.

Kozuszek said that, after several personal items on her desk went missing, she set up a web camera to monitor her office space. The camera, she said, is turned on nights and weekends when the office is closed and is separate from the one in the side room of the office which provides surveillance when the ballots are counted.

The Republican Martin--after hearing about the potential thefts from County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, and County Attorney Betty Knight--said that she asked Kozuszek in a memo to report to her and the other two members of the Election Board by the end of the day last Thursday on what items were taken.

When Kozuszek did not respond by the deadline, Martin said that she felt the need to step in because county clerks, she said, are responsible for elections.

“There were a couple of red flags I thought needed to be taken care of,” Martin said. “I’m hoping this resolves the issues.”

Only the entry door locks were changed, Martin said. Three keys will go to Republican workers and three keys to Democrat workers. Martin has been letting workers into the office in the morning. Deadbolts were installed Wednesday on the door and one must be opened with a Republican key and the other by a Democrat key.

The only others who have keys to get into the office are the Commissioners and the maintenance staff.

Martin said that she also has a key to the room where the election equipment is stored because that is property of the County Clerk.

Kozuszek, who was not in the office at the time the locks were changed, said that Martin’s actions were “one hundred percent political,” questioning why she is taking such charge this year when she has been “disengaged” in past elections. Kozuszek said that Martin has never taught a poll worker class, even though it’s her responsibility as Clerk, and has been absent on more than one occasion when the Election Board has certified a vote.

Kozuszek also asked what Martin would need to secure because the ballots for the primary election have not yet been delivered.

One question the two disagree on is whether Voters Registration is an office of the County Clerk.

“My office is not (Martin’s) office,” Kozuszek said. “It’s the Voters Registration Office. She added that the directors are appointed by the party chairpersons, not the Clerk.

On the contrary, Martin said, under state law the circuit court clerk is the officer for a county’s voter registration, and that all the forms associated with the election indicate they are to be filed with the clerk of the circuit court.

As for the camera, Kozuszek claims that, under the Porter County Employee Handbook, employees may do what they can to protect their property. She said she did not respond to Martin’s letter because she only needs to report to her party chair. “I followed what was the letter of the law and in the County handbook,” Kozuszek said.

County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said that Martin should not have changed the locks because she did not consult the Commissioners ahead of time. She said that goes for any department head or employee who wants to make a physical change in the County Administration Center. “I don’t think it’s okay to change locks without first notifying the Commissioners,” Blaney said. “It’s the public’s building but it’s our responsibility.”

Martin said she got permission from the Commissioners to change locks at a previous time when she had a theft in the Clerk’s office and was told it was the procedure to follow so she did the same for the Voters Registration office.

Martin said her actions were not political because for the primary elections both she and Kozuszek are running unopposed. She said she wants to clear up problems now so they do not become issues in November’s race.

Evans said that he felt the new locks are appropriate because they require a Democrat and Republican to open them.

Evans said he wants to prevent the appearance of electioneering--when a candidate or supporter tries to influence a voter--while early voting is going on in the Voters Registration Office. Indiana law bans electioneering within 50 feet of a voting area, he said.

The Election Board reviewed the concern last week and will meet on Friday to continue the discussion on where it will place early voting locations.

 

 

Posted 3/13/2014