INDIANAPOLIS | The GOP-controlled Indiana House approved legislation Tuesday that would order Lake County to devise a plan to reduce the number of precincts with fewer than 500 active voters.
Senate Bill 385 requires the county election and registration board to determine how many "small precincts" are in Lake County, whether they could be combined with adjacent precincts and how much money such a consolidation might save.
"This is just common sense," said state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, who added the Lake County-only provision to the legislation. "There's no prescription on what the outcome is meant to be. It's just language that says, 'Hey, take a look at this.'"
The precinct size review would have to be completed by Aug. 1, but any proposed changes wouldn't take effect until 2015. The state is not providing any money to pay to for the additional work by county election officials.
Several Lake County Democratic representatives said they suspect the bill is an effort to suppress Democratic votes by forcing county residents — who may be poorer, live in older neighborhoods or have less access to transportation — to travel farther for voting.
"If you can't get to the polls, you can't vote," said state Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago. "I don't want that to occur — not in my county."
Others wondered why the state would compel only Lake County election officials to review precinct sizes.
"If we're going to study it in one area, why not study it everywhere?" asked state Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point.
The measure, which also contains a variety of other election provisions, passed 66-29 on a party-line vote, and likely is headed to a House-Senate conference committee.
State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said she will work with lawmakers from both chambers to eliminate the Lake precinct review from the compromise proposal prior to a final vote.