Chesterton Tribune

Chesterton Town Hall to become test satellite site for early voting

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Duneland folks will not have to travel far to cast their ballots early for this year’s primary elections.

The Porter County Election Board on Monday approved a measure to host early voting at the Chesterton Town Hall after voters registration office heads Democrat Kathy Kozuszek and Republican Sundae Schoon reported the building met the standards required for a satellite voting location such as the amount of parking and accessibility for the handicapped.

“It’s quite suitable,” Kozuszek said mentioning voting would take place in the meeting room.

Other locations considered included the Westchester Thomas Library but the space there would have required voters to take an elevator.

Just like at the Valparaiso and Portage early voting locations, the ballots would be locked securely and kept under video surveillance at town hall and would be transported to their respective precincts on Election Day by the Porter County Sheriff’s Department.

Board president and Republican member Patrick Lyp expressed concern about keeping the ballots at the town hall since it would not be stored by the offices of the county clerk and would like to see them regularly transported to the Valparaiso or Portage location.

“Optimally, I feel more comfortable with the ballots being in our control,” said Lyp.

The board unanimously voted to open the early voting center this May as a trial run, testing how smoothly the process operates for the general election in the fall.

The new voting location will have the same hours as the Portage location from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday starting April 9 through May 7 (which is the last day for early voting and will close at Noon). It will not, however, be open Saturdays.

Two new workers will need to be hired to run the location, Kozuszek said.

In attendance, Duneland School Board member Ralph Ayres who asked the board in November to consider establishing a Duneland early voting site for the 2012 presidential elections, thanked Kozuszek and Schoon for their role in securing the location and sad he believes this will be a positive experience for voters who don’t have the time to travel to Valparaiso or Portage due to work or limited mobility.

“The reasons for it are important. The goal is to give people the best access to vote,” said Ayres.

Kozuszek said her office has been “busy, busy, busy” in preparation for this year’s election where voter turnouts could be close to what was seen in the 2008 presidential race. That election saw 12,000 walk-in early voters and 5,000 by mail.

She reminds voters they can mail in ballots in this election by contacting the voters registration office.

The board also unanimously decided to allow 17-year-old students to help work the polls for the May 8 primaries.

Board Wants Voter Turnout to Increase

Dismayed by the fact a mere 17 percent of eligible voters turned out for the 2011 municipal elections, Democratic board member J. J. Stankiewicz asked if there was anything that could be done to raise those statistics.

Turnout remains low despite advertising elections in public places and getting the word out through newspapers, Schoon said.

Board members speculated part of the reason may be because voters are not familiar with working the equipment or because people associate government with negative connotations like having to pay taxes.

Garnering young people’s interest in voting is an approach the board is considering, informing high school students who will turn 18 years of age before the Nov. 6 elections they are eligible to vote in both May and November elections.

Board member and County Clerk Karen Martin said getting students involved would in turn get some parents interested in voting again.

Possible Penalties for Former Candidates

In a separate matter, the board may decide at their next meeting on March 5 to penalize former candidates who have not filed their campaign finance reports with the county voters office.

Kozuszek said four Democrats and three Republicans, none of whom currently hold office, have been contacted by phone and by letter asking they submit their reports but have not complied.

Names were not mentioned but the board will see that a letter is mailed to each candidate in question asking them to submit their CFA-4 forms by March 5 or attend the meeting ready to explain the reasons for noncompliance.

Kozuszek said most of the candidates have not filed for office in a subsequent election but they should still notify the voters office to disband or close their political committees.

Current candidates have been faithful in reporting their finances but Lyp said the board should clearly spell out the possible ramifications for neglecting protocol.

“At the end of the day, we need to get a policy in place,” said Lyp.

Precinct Restructuring

Also on Monday, Kozuszek and Schoon reported 8,000 notices have been dispersed to residents living in precincts that were altered as a result of restructuring based on the new census figures.

Ayres, whose precinct in Westchester was absorbed by another, inquired as to why he now will vote at Chesterton High School which is not even in the same township. Schoon said the new precincts sometimes have polling places outside of their townships because their precincts did not contain a suitable facility for voting within them.

As reported in December, precinct Westchester 2 will be combined with Westchester 9, while Westchester 12 is combined with Westchester 15.

Liberty and Jackson townships also got two additional precincts each.




Posted 2/7/2012