Chesterton Tribune

 

 

FBI contacted as officials work to finish vote count

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By LILY REX

and KEVIN NEVERS

“Unofficial results Friday night”--That’s the latest word from Porter County Clerk Karen Martin, who just before deadline today told the Chesterton Tribune when the final vote count would be available.

Following a special meeting of the Election Board at noon, Martin said that three Democrats and three Republicans were doing the counting, that around half of it was done, and that 68 precincts were completed.

Meanwhile, after deadline on Wednesday, the Porter County Board of Commissioners released two statements--one to say that all votes cast early, as absentees, and at the polls between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesday will be counted with results expected Thursday. Provisionals, including any votes cast at locations that stayed open past 6 p.m. by court mandate, will be counted ten days after the election, as is normal procedure for provisional ballots.

As of this morning, Porter County Republican Committee Chair Michael Simpson and Democrat Chair Jeff Chidester both said they were last updated at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Simpson said he expected to hear more at noon today. Chidester said he was told yesterday that all the votes had been counted with the exception of Center and Portage Townships, but counting continued until nearly midnight Wednesday.

Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, for his part, reported counting has been almost nonstop and the concern now is for accuracy rather than speed. “There’s a hypersensitivity at this time to make sure that everything is done correctly.”

Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, attributed the hold-up to absentee ballots which hadn’t been sorted. “They’re doing what every precinct would have done during normal voting hours, and they’re being extra careful,” she said.

“They’re being very diligent, they’re very tired, but they’re doing a good job,” Blaney added.

Chidester said the Election Board is counting, not once nor twice, but three times to ensure it’s right. He also said, “They uncovered additional absentee ballots.”

As for rumors about lost or misplaced ballots, Biggs said, “I have not received any information that there’s any other ballots that can’t be found or are in another location.”

The other statement released yesterday: an announcement that the Commissioners have called in the FBI “to request an investigation into scores of alleged potential violations of Indiana Election Law.” The allegations have been leveled by poll workers, voters, and the general public, according to the Commissioners.

When asked her thoughts on potential FBI involvement in investigating the election--Martin’s first after the Republican majority Election Board voted earlier this year, in a decision split along party lines, to relieve the Voter Registration office of its election responsibilities and transfer them to the Clerk’s office--Martin declined to comment. Martin herself is on the ballot for County Auditor, and she also declined to say whether, if elected, she would turn down the position in light of the controversy.

Biggs said that the decision to call the FBI was a joint effort between himself, Blaney, and County Attorney Scott McClure. Commissioner Jeff Good, R-Center was made aware of the decision but did not weigh in due to his being on the ballot.

“It became more and more clear to us that there were enough complaints to warrant another set of eyes looking at this to ensure that everyone who took the time out of their days to vote, their vote counts, and every candidate that took the time and made the sacrifice of running for office is treated fairly,” Biggs said.

The allegations Biggs cited included these: chain of custody violations, incorrectly advertised polling locations, candidates breaching secured areas at polling places, insecure ballots, and deliberate sabotage of the process.

Blaney said, “To be honest, I don’t think we’ll find criminal behavior. But there are so many things that have gone on, I think we would be irresponsible not to have specially trained people take a closer look.”

Simpson said so far he only knows what the public knows about FBI involvement. “There’s wild speculation. If there’s been impropriety, I would certainly want to know about it.”

Simpson also said he thinks that the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office, which administers elections, might be a more appropriate contact than the FBI.

Chidester declined to weigh-in on FBI involvement, citing the fact that there may be a lot of blame to go around later. “I don’t want to engage in any armchair quarterbacking.”

Biggs said that no one involved--not the County Clerk, the party chairmen, or the Election Board--could explain what went wrong on election night. He reported that the FBI was chosen due to its special task force for investigating elections, for the complexity of the issue, and because election tampering is a federal crime. Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel was not involved due to his being on the ballot.

Blaney said, “This is about restoring voter confidence. People need to know the election was sound. There’s just not a lot of confidence right now.”

Biggs added the caveat that there is no guarantee the FBI will be inclined to investigate. Biggs, Blaney, and McClure are meeting with FBI officials this afternoon.

Biggs said every election has its speedbumps, but this one was “catastrophic.” He added, “We can’t have an election like this. It reverberates through the whole County, and it has long-lasting consequences going forward. It affects who votes in the future, who volunteers to help with elections.”

Biggs cautioned against blaming one person. “There’s not a single individual that could have messed up this election as bad as it was,” Biggs said. “To point the finger of blame completely at the County Clerk at this point I think is making a mistake. Without a doubt she has a role, but very likely there were other things at play here.”

Biggs said that he expects some might see a call to the FBI as heavy-handed, but he’s not concerned with anyone’s feelings. “I’m concerned about keeping intact what integrity is left in this election and this County’s reputation.”

“If you’re asking me to clean up your mess, don’t complain about what kind of mop I’m using.”

 

 

Posted 11/8/2018

 
 
 
 

 

 

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