VALPARAISO — Bob Poparad was among the few people who stuck around for the nearly four hours it took Friday afternoon for election officials to wrap up the final vote from last week's trouble-ridden general election.
The waiting paid off, however, as Democrat Poparad learned he held on to his slim victory to unseat Republican Porter County Councilman Andy Bozak in the only race with a close enough margin to be impacted by Friday's vote certification.
While both candidates gained some votes as a result of election officials tallying up a final 329 ballots that were flagged for various reasons to be reviewed, the margin between them remained the same, at 15.
"I want to thank my supporters and want to thank Andy for running a nice, clean campaign," Poparad said.
When contacted later, Bozak said he planned to talk to his wife and those with more knowledge about elections before deciding whether to request a recount. Candidates have until noon Tuesday to challenge the election outcome.
"I really just don't know," he said. "It's been hills and valleys these past weeks."
The outcome of the race shows every vote does count, Bozak said.
"It couldn't be more true," he said.
The final vote count is posted on a link from the county's website at porterco.org.
Election officials were left with 342 ballots to sort through Friday, of which 13 were tossed out, primarily because they had been mailed in beyond the deadline, said Porter County Election Board President David Bengs.
As he and other election officials worked their way through the ballots in the lower level of the county administration center Friday afternoon, the crowd that gathered at noon in a meeting room upstairs to watch a live feed slowly dwindled to just a few people by the time the work was done at 3:45 p.m.
Final tally triggers effort to repair problems
The final vote count came one week after the initial tally was wrapped, three days late as a result of numerous problems with the election, including 12 polling places opening late, a shortage of poll workers and accusations of mishandled ballots.
Secretary of State Connie Lawson agreed this week to assist Porter County election officials in figuring out what went wrong and put in place processes that ensure future elections run far more smoothly.
Lawson said she would not get involved until after Porter County certified its election results Friday because she was a candidate on the ballot, even though her unofficial statewide victory margin was greater than her Porter County vote tally.
Drew Wenger, chairman of the Valparaiso Democratic Committee, also is seeking an outside review of the Porter County elections.
But he contends Indiana State Police should lead it.
"The people of Porter County deserve to know if the election was fair or not," he said. "We all deserve to know the truth about exactly what happened during the weeks and months leading up the election, who created this mess and why it happened."
Wenger objected to Indiana state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, calling in Lawson to lead the effort to restore public confidence in Porter County elections.
"It’s no surprise to me that Indiana state Rep. Ed Soliday has called in a politician from Indianapolis to investigate this. Instead of more political involvement in this chaos, we actually need less. We need an investigation handled locally by the Indiana State Police branch in Lowell, not by an Indianapolis politician."
The Porter County Board of Commissioners called on the county election board last week to seek an investigation into the election by the Indiana Secretary of State's Election Division and Indiana State Police.
On Tuesday, the commissioners, led by Republican Jim Biggs, directly approved that request to the secretary of state for a state police investigation.
Biggs also revealed that he and county attorney Scott McClure already have given information to the FBI.
The county commissioners also have called for the immediate resignation of Republican Election Board member and Porter County Clerk Karen Martin, who has been held largely to blame for the election problems. Martin lost her bid last week to unseat Democratic Porter County Auditor Vicki Urbanik.
Democratic Porter County Council members Dan Whitten and Jeremy Rivas made the same request of Martin, saying they as council members were assured by Martin and the Election Board that they had the resources necessary to carry out the election.
Wenger contends that Porter County Republicans actually are using the election problems to "justify eliminating precinct polling locations" and replacing them with 13 countywide vote centers that he said would "disenfranchise voters."
Soliday said vote centers "could have solved a lot of problems" this go around. But he insisted, "I don't want to be in that fight."