CROWN POINT | The popularity of early voting has prompted Lake County election officials to open more suburban polling places.

The Lake County elections board voted unanimously Tuesday to establish a  nine locations this spring where people can vote beginning April 8.

The bipartisan panel approved early voting sites in Gary, Munster, Highland and Lowell. That is addition to their main office in Crown Point and satellite locations in East Chicago, Hammond and the towns of St. John and Winfield.

Pat Gabrione, assistant elections board director, said the expansion is the result of work by GOP and Democrat officials to make early voting available throughout the county.

Some 36,622 people voted early in person or by paper absentee ballots in the 2012 general election. That number represented 18 percent of the votes cast and 11 percent of the county's registered voters.

The bipartisan decision is in stark contrast to the 2008 election when Republicans attempted to block satellite voting centers in Democratic strongholds. Republicans withdrew objections after more voting centers were located in suburbs.

Gabrione said Munster Town Hall proved to be a successful venue during last year's school referendum voting, and the Lowell-area site is in response to complaints from south county residents who had said they traveled the farthest to cast an early ballot.

Gabrione said the Election Board chose as the Gary Public Safety Facility as a new site because it will have more space for voters than the previous location inside the courthouse at Fifth and Broadway.

Early voting hours were set to run 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday from April 8 through May 2 at the Crown Point location, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the eight other locations.

Weekend early voting will take place 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday April 26 and Saturday May 3 in Crown Point, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on those days at the other locations.

The final day of early voting will be May 5.

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