Lake County polling place

Voters waited last fall for their turn at one of several voting precincts at the Lake County Fairgrounds.

CROWN POINT —State election officials will now take over the job of consolidating Lake County's small precincts, since local officials couldn't agree upon a bipartisan plan to do so.

The Lake County election board announced Tuesday they were at an impasse over the new law requiring them to produce a bipartisan precinct consolidation plan by June 1.

The Democratic majority of the county elections board complained Tuesday the law is unfair and didn't give the county enough time to craft an equitable reduction of precincts with fewer than 600 active voters.

The Democrats also wouldn't agree to a GOP proposal drafted by Pat Gabrione, the ranking Republican on the election board staff, to eliminate, through mergers, 154 of the county's 523 precincts.

The board's inaction means the Indiana Election Commission will take over the job.

Jim Wieser, the county Democratic chairman, and Lake County Clerk Mike Brown and Kevin Smith, two of the Democrats' three election board members, took the opportunity to attack the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which is mandating that only Lake, among all the state's counties, cull its precincts.

They argued it was an attempt to suppress local voter turnout by creating larger precincts and longer voter lines on election days, and said it wasn't fair that they have had less than a month to agree upon a plan since Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 220 into law, which set Thursday's deadline.

Michael Mellon, a Republican election-board member, responded, "This is the law, and we need to comply with the law."

The state election commission has until later this summer to produce a precinct reduction plan of its own.

Gabrione's consolidation plan bites deeply into East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Highland, Hobart, Lake Station, Merrillville, New Chicago and Whiting where Democrats are a majority.

It also would merge seven precincts in Schererville, five in Munster, four in Crown Point, three in Dyer and Griffith, two in St. John and a scattering of others in suburban and rural areas where Republicans are more numerous.

Gabrione said Tuesday his plan is "a far cry" from the 283 precincts that were in jeopardy under the law's mandate to eliminate as many precincts with fewer than 600 active voters as possible.

It also spares dozens of small precincts throughout the county that cannot be merged without illegally shifting voters across legislative, township or school board district lines.

Republicans argue Lake County has the most small precincts of any county in Indiana and promise consolidation will save taxpayer dollars, as much as $200,000 every election year.

Democrats complain fewer polling places that are farther apart would disadvantage minority voters without transportation.

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Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.