Dems, GOP vie for high school poll workers

2014-04-07T20:45:00Z 2014-04-16T16:42:29Z Dems, GOP vie for high school poll workersBill Dolan, (219) 662-5328
April 07, 2014 8:45 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Democrats and Republicans on the Lake County election board squabbled Monday about the etiquette of recruiting high school students as election workers.

Dennis Hawrot, the Democratic town chairman for Dyer and an election board member, wanted Republican Dyer Town Councilwoman Mary Tanis summoned to explain why she recruited Lake Central High School students who already had committed to work with Democrats.

He said he received an email late last week from an unidentified student saying Tanis came to school, the student was pulled out of class and was told she should work for Tanis instead.

"I consider this intimidation. I have never called students out of class. (Tanis) is a former teacher and a candidate. I think it was politically motivated," Hawrot said.

Republicans on the election board defended Tanis, saying she intended no wrong. They said she was only encouraging students to work in elections, something both parties support as an educational way to make government relevant for future voters.

Both parties have looked to schools to fill election-worker quotas since a recent change in state law permits high school students, eligible to vote, to monitor voter activity in polling places. Democrats and Republicans are needed for each of the county's 530 precincts.

Republican election board member Mike Mellon said, "What's the point of puffing your chest and calling someone before us?"

Pat Gabrione, a Republican and assistant elections director, said, "I think Mr. Hawrot's complaint is politically motivated. If this is brought up before the election board, it has gone too far."

James Wieser, an attorney for the Democrats, said, "It doesn't appear to rise to the level of election law violation."

David Wickland, an attorney for the Republicans, said if Hawrot wants to pursue a full-blown investigation, he should file a formal complaint.

Kevin Smith, election board chairman and a Democrat, said he wanted to avoid a formal investigation but was concerned about the report of Tanis calling a student out of class.

Tanis, who wasn't called to the room, said after the meeting a school secretary, not she, had students pulled from their classes. She said once she heard of Hawrot's complaint, she relinquished students he had contacted earlier and now has five other students she will use.

Gabrione said Hawrot already knew this and asked him not to "drag this any further."

Hawrot agreed, saying, "Tanis coming before us would serve no useful purpose. I just don't want it happening again, and we come up short of workers."

Michelle Fajman, elections director and a Democrat, said she and John Moos, a Crown Point Republican, routinely go to Crown Point High School to register students to vote during their lunch period and question their interest in working the polls. She said there is no competition between the two.

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