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11/8/2018 10:32:00 AM
Porter County election results still not available

Bob Kasarda, Times of Northwest Indiana

VALPARAISO — While the public and candidates continue to wait for Porter County to post the results from Tuesday's general election, representatives from the county commissioners office are preparing for a 1:30 p.m. meeting with the FBI.

"It's a special task force that does nothing but handle issues that deal with elections," said Porter County Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North.

Tampering with elections is a federal offense, he said, addressing questions about why the FBI was contacted as opposed to Indiana State Police. 

"It's right up there with bank robbery," Biggs said. "People take this very seriously."

Porter County commissioners said Wednesday they reached out to the FBI after receiving "scores of alleged violations of Indiana election law submitted by poll workers, voters and the public."

The target of those allegations was not made known, nor were any further details released.

The Porter County Voter Registration Office had long run local elections until earlier this year, when Republican Porter County Election Board members Karen Martin and David Bengs voted to transfer the authority to the county clerk's office headed up by Martin.

While Martin, in her role as county clerk, has been singled out by some as the cause of the late polling places and alleged mishandling of absentee and early ballots, Biggs said the problem is a little wider.

"Karen is not the single problem here," he said. "This was not only her mistake. There is plenty of blame to be passed around here."

But most of the people involved in the county's election process are honest and hardworking, Biggs said.

"We're trying to maintain any validity that may be left with the election process here in this county," he said.

Biggs said he does not want to see the election process returned to the voter registration office, which is staffed by appointees of the local Republican and Democratic parties.

"You have a five-headed monster down there," he said.

He was referring to the county clerk, voter registration office, county election board, and the local Republican and Democratic party chairs.

The elections should remain under the control of an elected official, Biggs said, but with clear instructions on how to properly carry out the task.

It is the intent of the commissioners' office to get at the bottom of what went wrong with Tuesday's general election and set up a system to see that it does not happen again, he said. 

The ballot count for Tuesday's election did not begin until Wednesday morning, or more than 15 hours after the first polling places closed. Twelve polling places failed to open on time Tuesday.

Martin said Tuesday of poll workers, "We had a lot of people quit on us at the last minute."

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

Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds said absentee and early voting ballots were not ready early Tuesday for his officers to deliver to the appropriate polling places required by law. 

J.J. Stankiewicz, the lone Democrat on the three-member county election board, said he walked into the county courthouse about 1:05 a.m. Wednesday, and there were women sitting on the floor of the rotunda counting absentee and early voting ballots.

The absentee and early ballots should have been delivered to the Porter County Administration Center a couple of blocks away, he said.

The Election Day problems resulted in a couple emergency court hearings and judges' orders to ensure access to voting and secure the handling of ballots.

The current vote count underway includes all votes cast between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday, and all votes cast at early voting locations and absentee ballots by mail.

Normal provisional ballots and those cast Tuesday at the dozen precincts that had their hours extended by a judge due to a late opening will be counted Nov. 16, as is typically the case.

Related Stories:
• Judge orders 12 Porter County polls to remain open later than scheduled because of late starts
• EDITORIAL: Blame to go around in Porter County election fiasco

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