Chesterton Tribune



Jim Biggs on county election: 'Total absolute breakdown'

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Porter County Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, was cautiously hopeful--at 8:45 a.m. today--that by mid- or late-morning ballot counters in the Voter Registration Office would begin posting election results.

Yet after an Election Day in which, seemingly, anything that could go wrong did, Biggs expressed a nagging concern over the unknown unknowns. “I suspect there are other issues no one has uncovered yet,” he told the Chesterton Tribune. “So much went wrong with the process last night, commonsense tells me we haven’t seen everything. And until we do, I don’t know how you can think of placing a stamp of approval on the results as official.”

What went wrong?

Begin with the failure of 12 polling places--four of them in Duneland: Liberty 3, and Westchester 9, 13, and 14--to open on time at 6 a.m. Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford, the only sitting Superior or Circuit court judge in the county not to have a personal or familial connection to Tuesday’s election, subsequently ordered those 12 polling places to remain open past 6 p.m., four of them until 8:30 p.m.

But there were other issues, many of them, Biggs said. Polling places were inadequately staffed and poll workers either ill trained or poorly instructed. “Which is unbelievable to me.” In one case, a poll worker, tired of waiting for someone to collect the ballots late Tuesday night, put a To Whom It May Concern note on the door, saying that he’d gone home and taken the ballots with him. Sheriff’s deputies were later sent to the poll worker’s residence to secure the ballots, Biggs said, and “luckily the seals were unbroken.”

Also, according to Porter County Democrat Party Central Committee Chair Jeff Chidester: up to 15,000 absentee and early ballots which were supposed to have been delivered to their respective polling places before they closed were not. Judge Pro Tem Julia Jent subsequently issued an order of her own, that absentee and early ballots must be counted, following a motion filed by local Democrats concerned that those ballots would simply be tossed.

Biggs’ assessment: “What a mess.”

And at the epicenter of that mess, Biggs told the Tribune: Porter County Clerk Karen Martin, whose office assumed jurisdiction of the election process earlier this year after the Republican majority Porter County Election Board split-voted along party lines to relieve the Porter County Voter Registration Office of that responsibility. “A total, absolute breakdown of the process, and that process should have started in the Clerk’s Office,” Biggs said. “And that process failed miserably. Karen Martin appeared to me, from my conversation with her last night, to be overwhelmed.”

Martin, a term-limited Republican, is running this year for Porter County Auditor.

Administration of the election “should never have been turned over (a) to a person who’s running for election,” Biggs said, “(b) to a person who has never run an election, and (c) to someone who has personal problems with key management in Voter Registration. It was a recipe for a disaster. It should have been pretty academic that people knew what they were doing.”

“We cannot guarantee to any extent that this will change unless we enact change,” Biggs said.

“We can’t in clear conscience hand this over again to the people who stood and watched it fall apart last night. It has to change. I’ve always considered Porter County a shining star in Northwest Indiana. We didn’t shine so bright last night. And that’s inexcusable.”

This Morning

Presumably Election Board officials were counting ballots this morning, although the Chesterton Tribune was unable to reach anyone to confirm. Biggs said that it was his belief that counting began at 7 a.m.

Biggs added that, before he left last night around midnight, he personally asked two Sheriff’s deputies to remain at the Administration Building overnight to secure all ballots. Sheriff Dave Reynolds, for his part, told the Tribune that he’s assigned deputies to remain with the ballots until the counting has been completed.

Porter County Republican Central Committee Chair Michael Simpson said that the Election Board is being supervised by Sundae Schoon and Kathy Kozuszek, respectively the Republican and Democrat directors of Voter Registration, who are watching the count for accuracy. “All I’m interested in is a bipartisan ballot count. People need to know the results.”

Chidester, meanwhile, told the Tribune that voters can expect results late this afternoon or evening.

Going Forward

Biggs was adamant this morning that the Porter County Board of Commissioners will take action, and soon, to ensure that last night’s circus is never repeated. “Any honest person would say that the Board of Commissioners has to make a decision so that this never happens again,” he said. “We had no say whatsoever that the election was going to be turned over to someone who’s never run an election. But we do have the authority to hire competent staff to run it.”

“The Board of Commissioners has very, very short patience for incompetence,” Biggs added. “We will be talking about this over the next few days. We’re handcuffed right now because Commissioner Jeff Good, R-Center, is running for re-election. But once that poses no conflict, we’re going to move for something drastically different.”

“Somebody or somebodies are going to be held accountable for this,” Biggs vowed. “Residents deserve answers and deserve to move forward with the proper protocols and systems in place.”



Posted 11/7/2018





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