Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Democrat says signature on 2018 voter registration budget wasn't hers

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By LILY REX

Democrat Director of Porter County Voter Registration Kathy Kozuszek told the Chesterton Tribune today that she has filed a report with the Valparaiso Police Department alleging that a signature on the Voter Registration office’s 2018 budget, purportedly hers, was in fact placed on the document by her Republican co-director, Sundae Schoon.

Kozuszek said she discovered the false signature in April, as she was hoping to hire part-time workers to help answer calls from voters during the 2018 primary and general elections, and was told that the line item from which she wanted to pull funds was empty.

The Chesterton Tribune obtained an email exchange suggesting that four County officials were notified in April of Kozuszek’s claim that the signature wasn’t hers.

Kozuszek told the Chesterton Tribune that a line item in the budget was zeroed-out without her knowledge after she and Schoon had discussed and supposedly finalized the budget together in August 2017. The version of the budget without that funding was presented to the County Council at a Sept. 26, 2017 budget hearing by Schoon, who appeared alone, as can be seen in a public video of the meeting on the Porter County Government YouTube account.

Kozuszek said the move ended up being a blow to her resources in the midst of the most hectic midterm election she’s seen in her 18 years as an employee at Voter Registration and is symptomatic of an election process tainted by party politics.

“When I started here, it was Democrats only talk to Democrats and Republicans only talk to Republicans,” Kozuszek said of Voter Registration. “I always told myself if I ever came into a position of authority, that would end because we were paid for by all taxpayers of this county.”

Kozuszek went on to say that she makes this allegation in spite of fearing for her job. “I am a loyal, 18-year employee of this county,” she said. “I punched a clock long before it was fashionable because nobody would ever accuse me or my girls of cheating the County a dime.”

Kozuszek said that in addition to Schoon, County Council President Andy Bozak, R-1st, has curtailed her resources by way of refusing to consider a request for an additional appropriation from the general fund to fund the part-time workers. “Here’s a man that wants to sit on the County Council and make decisions, good decisions, on behalf of the voters, and he shortchanged them by refusing to hear my request for money to service them on election day,” she said.

In an April email exchange between Kozuszek and Bozak, Bozak wrote that he would not entertain a request for funds if Schoon and Kozuszek didn’t agree on the need for funds and make the request jointly. In an April 9 email, Kozuszek informed Bozak that he had already entertained a request from Schoon without Kozuszek’s input because the signature on Voter Registration’s 2018 budget that appeared to be hers was not in fact hers.

Kozuszek was clear in the email that she suspected Schoon of signing her name, and said it wouldn’t be the first time Schoon had altered a document.

County Council Vice-President Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, County Council Attorney Harold Harper, and Commissioner Jeff Good, R-Center, were CCed on that email.

Kozuszek said none of them responded to her claim that her signature had been forged.

“I’m definitely denying it,” Schoon told the Chesterton Tribune this morning. “There’s really not much else to say.”

Schoon said Kozuszek’s reference to her past stems from an incident where she notarized a form she shouldn’t have notarized shortly after starting her job in Voter Registration. Schoon said it was a simple mistake when she was new to the job, and though the snafu prompted an election board hearing with Judge Mary Harper, “I was not brought up on charges. I was not sanctioned or anything like that.”

Kozuszek attributes the lack of response and lack of action to Republican leadership protecting their own. “You got a Republican party in control, then you’ve got a Republican employee. They wouldn’t tolerate that from anyone else,” she said.

Kozuszek especially charged Bozak with playing by party lines for not acknowledging her allegation against Schoon in April.

Bozak countered in a phone call this morning that Kozuszek didn’t request that the Council respond to or investigate her claims in the April 9 email, and that if she had, he would have referred that matter to the Prosecutor. “We’re the fiscal body. We take the budget at face value. We’re not checking signatures,” he said.

Bozak said his impression of the allegation at the time was that Kozuszek was “Trying to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks,” and it was part of a lot of allegations that were flying around in a department where “There’s just a lot of drama.” He now questions why she didn’t go to the Prosecutor right away.

Bozak offered, “It was never my intent to ignore something she brought to me.”

Kozuszek said that she debated making a public allegation for some time and felt that now was her last chance to be taken seriously. “I want to come forward with everything now, all the collusion, because after the election, they’ll say it’s just sour grapes, but it’s not sour grapes. It’s well documented.” She said the reason she didn’t take this matter to the Prosecutor, Republican Brian Gensel, was because she feared he would look out for his own party.

As for what’s documented, Republican County Clerk Karen Martin was handed elections duties earlier this year in a 2-1 decision of the Republican majority Election Board, where lone Democrat member J.J. Stankiewicz objected. Stankiewicz objected to Martin running the election due to her being on the ballot for County Auditor this election cycle.

Stankiewicz, after the primary election, called for the Election Board to hold a public forum to hear and address complaints from voters and poll workers so any issues that occurred in May could be resolved before the general election. The Board at that time agreed to hold a public forum but never followed through.

Both Kozuszek and Stankiewicz have maintained since the switch that party politics are playing a major role in how the election duties are being handled on Martin’s watch.

Saturday, between 118 and 122 votes were mishandled due to poll worker error at the Portage early voting siteÑerrors that Kozuszek claims could have been avoided with better poll worker training. Kozuszek has collected dozens of complaints from early voters and poll workers so far, and Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Jim Harper held a press conference at the Porter County Administration Center on Oct. 25 where he said he’s heard from many voters who haven’t received absentee ballots in a timely manner.

Kozuszek said that the complaints she’s received are divided almost equally by party, and she doesn’t think voters from either party are being singled-out.

The issue on Saturday was that two poll workers didn’t initial the back of the ballots, as required by law for the vote to count.

Kozuszek said voters must refuse to be turned away at the polls. At least four volunteers will be on hand on election day helping her answer calls from voters and poll workers. Anyone with questions can call the following four numbers to speak with someone in Voter Registration: (219)465-3484, (219)465-3488, (219)465-3594, and (219)465-3486. Kozuszek urged voters to come to her office on election day if they have an urgent issue and can’t get through on the phone.

 

 

Posted 11/2/2018

 

 
 
 

 

 

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