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11/6/2018 12:40:00 PM
Judge orders 12 Porter County polls to remain open later than scheduled because of late starts

Times of Northwest Indiana


VALPARAISO — Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford ordered 12 polling places to remain open up to 2.5 hours late Tuesday night because of problems that forced them to open late.

The Porter County election board voted Tuesday during an emergency meeting to seek the extension.

Members of the Porter County Democratic Party, who launched a separate effort to extend hours at some polling locations, were present during a hearing before Bradford.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin, who took over control of elections this year from the county voter registration office, said earlier Tuesday some of the six sites affected opened as late as 7:30 a.m., about 1.5 hours after the scheduled time.

"We had a lot of people quit on us at the last minute," she said, referring to poll workers.

Additional problems stemmed from poll inspectors not picking up cases of supplies and sites not being opened when poll workers arrived, she said.

Though not all polls opened late, the election board is seeking to extend hours at all polls until at least 7 p.m., Martin said. 

"We'd rather be safe than sorry," she said.

Election board member David Bengs said the board wanted to give all voters the opportunity to vote.

Officials were waiting about 11:30 a.m. for a hearing to be scheduled before Bradford.

Meanwhile, members of the Porter County Democratic Party scrambled to figure out how many polling places opened significantly late Tuesday morning as part of a separate effort to ask a judge to extend polling hours at those sites, Party Chairman Jeff Chidester said.

"To just say there are six and call it a day is not right," he said. "There are more than that. It's almost a moving target."

At least one party member called for polls to remain open until 8 p.m.

"Because of the mistakes made by the board and the clerk, voters in Portage, and elsewhere are being disenfranchised by no fault of their own," Portage City Councilman Collin Czilli, D-5th, said. "This is unacceptable."

Chidester said it appeared all the polling places in Porter County were open by midmorning. Democrats were particularly concerned about reports that some polling locations opened more than an hour late, he said.

Attorney Monica Conrad, who has been retained by the party to help address the issue, said efforts were underway to determine the size of the problem.

Once that is determined, the party will request a court order to extend the voting hours for at least the impacted polls. It's still a "work in progress," she said.

The Democratic Party also planned to make its request with Bradford, who is not on this year's ballot and is free from conflicts of interest because of family relationships with candidates.

Problems at the polls

Voters told The Times the polling location inside Faith Memorial Lutheran Church at 753 N. Calumet Ave. in Liberty Township did not open until 7:30 a.m., more than 1.5 hours after the scheduled time.

One voter reported the poll at South Haven Public Library, 403 W. 700 North in Portage Township, opened late.

Another voter reported a polling station at the Lake of the Four Seasons fire station, 745 W. County Road 275 South, did not open on time.

Porter County commissioners issued a statement just before 9 a.m., saying they understand the ability to vote "is the keystone of our democracy."

"We know there have been some issues with polling locations opening late today. We understand the frustration of voters in these locations," the commissioners said in their joint statement. "We are ready to help in any capacity within our means. We implore the election board to take legal action to keep the polls open beyond their regular schedules."

Chidester said the cause of the delays Tuesday morning has yet to be determined, but added had heard some poll workers were so stressed they walked off the job early in the day.

Portage City Councilman Collin Czilli, D-5th, called on Martin to "do the right thing and extend voting hours for all of Porter County."

Czilli said several polling locations in Portage did not open on time.

"Those making this decision should do whatever they can to ensure that every voter has a chance to vote," he said. "They have a responsibility to run fair elections and this is the only solution."

Martin and Bengs, the two Republican members of the election board, voted earlier this year to take control of local elections from the county voter registration office.

J.J. Stankiewicz, the lone Democratic member of the three-person board, argued against shift in control because Martin, as a candidate on this year's ballot, was prohibited from administering the election. 

Martin is running for county auditor against Democratic incumbent Vicki Urbanik.

Martin told The Times last spring the law says only that her signature cannot be on the back of the ballot, which it is not.

Voters sound off

Stephanie Campana, of Liberty Township, said she arrived about 6 a.m. at Faith Memorial Lutheran Church and was the fourth person to cast her vote just after 7:30 a.m. 

Campana estimated about 20 people left, but added many more never showed up because voters already waiting in line called them to warn them of the delay.

Others estimated up to 100 people left the polling location without voting.

Campana said many of her neighbors work in Chicago. She was aware of one man who left without voting and will not be able to commute home in time tonight to cast his ballot.

Mary Ann Nowak said she waited until 6:20 a.m., but then left.

"There were a lot of people who work at the mill who probably won't be able to come back," she said.

Nowak has never before seen problems of this magnitude at the polling location, she said.

"We have voted there for years, so I'm not sure what happened," she said.

Campana said she was told the Republican who was to serve as inspector did not show up, so the poll could not open. Several voters said in addition to the lack of an inspector, the ballots were not delivered on time.

Charles Murphy said he also lined up at 6 a.m. at the poll. He estimated 100 people left without voting.

"I heard many people say they won't be able to vote now, or they hope they get out of work early tonight so they can vote," he said.

Murphy said he hoped election officials would keep the polls open longer, so those who left will be able to return tonight to cast ballots.

Related Stories:
• Porter County election results still not available
• EDITORIAL: Blame to go around in Porter County election fiasco
• Porter County election results bring relief and anger
• Porter County finalizes troubled vote count with no changes in election results

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