The Porter County
Council approved a number of budget changes at its meeting last week to
prepare for the new election law HEA 1215.
HEA 1215 took
effect yesterday, and dissolves the former Voters Registration office and
three-member Election Board to form a five-member Board of Elections and
Registration and allows the new Board to authorize Porter County Clerk
Jessica Bailey to hire a director and assistant director to run elections.
Council zeroed-out the budgets for Voters Registration and the old Election
Board and appropriated those funds for the new Board, leaving enough money
to pay Voter Registration employees through the end of last week.
The new Board of
Elections and Registration will be comprised of Bailey, and two members
appointed by Porter County’s Democrat and Republican Party chairmen. The
Board members will be compensated $5,000 per year, which is up from $2,000
previously. The new director of elections will be paid $49,000 per year and
the assistant director $47,000. They will be of opposite party affiliations.
Two deputies will be paid $37,686 per year.
The new law is a
response to the election disaster on November 6, 2018 when 13 polling places
opened up to two hours late, poll workers and voter complaints abounded, and
results were delayed until Nov. 9.
A report from a
third-party, nonpartisan audit and the Indiana Secretary of State’s office
subsequently concluded that three people--former Clerk Karen Martin, former
Democrat Director of Voter Registration Kathy Kozuszek, and former Election
Board president J.J. Stankiewicz--were responsible for the bulk of the
election troubles. Martin is out of office after she lost a bid for County
Auditor in the Nov. 2018 election, Stankiewicz resigned following the
release of a video of him yelling at Bailey at the March 2019 Election Board
meeting, and Kozuszek is out of a job since the new law went into effect
Tuesday that she would be hiring a director and assistant director of
elections and each would be tasked with hiring a deputy to work with them
for a total of four full-time election workers. Council member Bob Poparad,
D-1st, wondered if four people is enough.
Bailey said they
could probably use a third deputy, but the law requires her to hire in even
numbers. She suggested the Council could revisit the issue next month after
all new employees are in place and any new needs crop up. “This is a
brand-new division. Nobody’s quite sure how things are going to work,”
Council member Mike
Jessen, R-4th, for his part, said he looks forward to the new format of the
Election Board and seeing the elections work under Bailey’s oversight. “I
think that oversight is what’s been missing on a daily basis, and that’s
what’s been missing historically,” Jessen said. “For being newly elected and
thrown into quite a mess, you’ve handled it masterfully,” he added.
In other business,
the Council tabled the Westchester Public Library’s request for an
additional appropriation due to some uncertainty about the Council being
WPL’s funding authority. WPL Director Lisa Stamm reported she’s working with
County Council Attorney Harold Harper and the Department of Local Government
Finance to discern next steps.