The issue of having
an early voting location in Valparaiso was not solved Friday, instead
tensions were magnified between Democrat and Republican party members at the
special Porter County Election Board meeting which at times gave way to
raucous shouting matches.
Both sides say they
want the same thing: to have fair elections and to provide convenience for
the voter. However, neither side accepts the other’s proposal for a
The board on March
14 approved early voting sites at the County Government offices in Portage
and Chesterton Town Hall, but no agreement could be reached on a location in
the County Administration Building. The conflict arose because Democratic
County Clerk candidate Kathy Kozuszek works as the Democrat Director in the
Voters Registration office where early voting has traditionally taken place
for the last 20 years or so.
satellite voting location requires unanimous support from the board.
Kozuszek is running
against incumbent County Clerk Karen Martin, a Republican, in November’s
came at the behest of the County Commissioners who asked Martin to gather
the election board members together. Martin serves on the board along with
Republican member David Bengs and Democratic member J.J. Stankiewicz, both
of whom were absent Friday. In proxy were Kenard Taylor for Bengs and
Katrina Spence for Stankiewicz.
Spence objected to
the meeting saying she only learned of the meeting a few hours prior by
reading the newspaper and because she had questions for the board’s attorney
Ethan Lowe, who was also absent.
“I don’t believe
the board can go forward without its attorney,” Spence said. She asked what
the purpose was for rushing the meeting.
Taylor said the
board has been charged by the Commissioners to open up a early voting site
as soon as possible so word can get out to the public about when and where
they can vote.
He also had with
him a letter from Lowe saying that Martin as the County Clerk is free to
designate the Porter County Courthouse in Valparaiso as the one location of
her office where early voting can occur without a vote from the election
Martin said she has
designated the portion of her office on the first floor of the Courthouse as
her location for early voting unless the board can agree on a space in the
Sitting in for part
of the meeting, County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said he
would prefer not to have voting at the Courthouse because voters would have
to pass through the metal detector which could dissuade some from voting.
Evans said the
Voters Registration Office would not work because he alleged the law does
not allow a candidate, in this case Kozuszek, to be in the voting area. He
offered for voting to take place in the upstairs meeting room (no. 307), the
second floor rotunda or the side room to the Commissioner’s Chambers.
Spence said she
does not think that there is a state statute that specifically bans
candidates from being in a voting place, but it does ban electioneering. She
said if her fellow board members wouldn’t accept the voters registration
office, she proposed using the rotunda on the first floor near the health
department or the PCADOS classroom a few rooms down. That way, voter
registration workers can be nearby if something is needed.
But Taylor and
Evans objected, saying the Health Department needs that space and would be
bothered by the crowds.
Democratic Chairman Jeff Chidester, who acknowledged he “doesn’t have a vote
in this matter,” said that the turnout for this year’s primary elections is
expected to be low and he does not anticipate any large crowds disrupting
the health department.
He said in all the
times early voting has been held, the department has never made any
Using the same
argument as the Republicans, Chidester challenged the idea of having voting
in the side room of the Chambers or on the second floor because County
Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, who is running for reelection this year,
has her office “on the other side of that wall” and that there are meetings
going on sporadically in the Chambers that would be bothered by voting.
semantics,” Chidester said. “We would like to have voting downstairs. Why
are we arguing this when the rotunda downstairs is highly acceptable?”
Evans said it is
the Commissioners who are responsible for the administration building and at
this time they are only offering the three locations to the election board.
“This was all done
in good faith. If you want to disenfranchise the voters, go ahead,” said
Evans. “There are three different places you can have early voting in this
building -- Room 307, the rotunda or this side room here.”
the meeting without any decision made other than that early voting will be
offered at the Courthouse. Spence questioned if the move was legal since the
law states that only one location of the office of the circuit court clerk
can be designated by the Clerk herself and already the election board had
decided on the North County Complex in Portage.
Martin said that
the location in Portage is not at her office but at the Health Department’s
The board did not
set a date for when it might meet next to vote again. There is a meeting
scheduled for Tuesday, April 8, the day early voting is scheduled to begin.
of the Voters Registration office Sundae Schoon said there is no set
deadline for early voting locations to be decided other than by when voting
Kozuszek after the
meeting showed members of the press the locations of where the Democrats
wanted to have voting on the first floor of the administration building. She
pointed out where ballots would be kept and where Democrat and Republican
clerks can be stationed to keep a watchful eye over activity.
“I don’t think
that’s being unreasonable,” she said.
Martin said holding
early voting in the Voters Registration office will have to be ruled out due
to a new law that went into effect last July which clearly bans a political
party chair or vice-chair from being in a voting area when they are an
election candidate. Kozuszek is the vice-chair for the County Democratic
presented a response from the Indiana Election Division that states what a
voters registration worker should not do while a candidate. The IED advises
against electioneering in the voting area, assisting with Election Day
canvassing, displaying any kind of political preference or party allegiance
and making any statement to discourage potential voters from registering.