Munster woman reprimanded for double vote in spring referendum

2013-08-20T17:47:00Z 2013-08-20T20:31:18Z Munster woman reprimanded for double vote in spring referendumBy Bill Dolan, (219) 662-5328
August 20, 2013 5:47 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Lake County election officials reprimanded a Munster woman for voting twice in her town's school funding referendum, but didn't find any evidence she acted fraudulently.

The bipartisan five-member elections board unanimously declined to ask the prosecutor's office to conduct a criminal investigation after hearing the testimony of Denise M. Witczak, 59, who said she was confused when she voted twice in four days last May.

Munster town residents went to the polls May 7 to raise taxes 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to supplement property tax revenues needed for school payrolls and other operational costs. It passed with 3,689 “yes” votes against 1,991 “no” votes.

County records indicate Witczak cast an in-person ballot May 4 during the monthlong early voting and then a second vote Election Day. Election officials said they later discovered what she had done and were able to cancel her earlier vote.

Elections officials said absentee early ballots, like the one Witczak cast May 4, have documentary trails that permit officials to void them if they later are judged to be invalid, such as voters who cannot produce photo identification cards.

Lake County has experienced waves of suspected vote fraud in recent years.

A 2008 get-out-the-vote effort generated complaints of the applications bearing hundreds of fictitious signatures and names of dead and underage people in Lake County -- including one made out in the name and address of Jimmy Johns, a Crown Point fast-food outlet.

Some 46 people were convicted of vote fraud in connection with the 2003 East Chicago mayoral campaign where abuses of absentee balloting were so widespread the Indiana Supreme Court ordered a new election in 2004.

Witczak said no one paid her to vote twice.

"Maybe it's hard to imagine. So many things were on my mind," she said.

Witczak asked the elections board to excuse her because she has been experiencing depression and anxiety since her parents died 15 years ago.

She said she is a special needs teacher who hasn't been employed full time for several years, is single, living on dwindling savings and has no health insurance.

She said she forgot she cast her first vote because of the distractions of also having to go to a job interview the same day. She said she voted on Election Day after a neighbor insisted she should make her voice heard on the referendum.

Michelle Fajman, elections director, said absentee ballots cast within four days of an election aren't immediately entered into documents election workers use to ensure people don't vote more than once. She said they hope to eliminate this information gap by next year's elections.

Fajman said nothing like this has happened during her 24 years of elections work, and it appears to be a unique situation.

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