Don’t be fooled, this move to eliminate up to half of the precincts in Lake County isn’t all about money.
Oh, it will save the county some bucks because fewer people will be needed to man the polls on primary and general election days.
What’s really important to Republicans, who are pushing the change, is the weakening of the Lake County Democratic precinct organization.
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, is sponsor of the legislation to force Lake County to eliminate all precincts with fewer than 600 registered voters.
And if the county Election Board refuses, the state will step in and do it.
Lake Democrats say the bill will disenfranchise elderly voters in urban areas who lack transportation to the polls.
Despite GOP assurances that centrally located precincts will be established in areas of high consolidation, it’s not going to matter to many.
The elderly are set in their ways. Changing the place where they have voted all their lives can be a very disruptive thing. It also can mean they will never vote again. Those folks are mainly in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago. That’s good news for Republicans who rarely pick up votes in north county, particularly since former Republican Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Sr. retired.
Although Democrats are correct in that the redistricting will impact the party’s vote, it also will weaken the long-standing power of the urban cities.
Let’s take Gary as the primary example. The Steel City once had about 175,000 residents. The population had fallen to about 82,000, according to the 2010 Census. The most recent estimate has the figure below 80,000.
In the meantime, voting in Gary has become quite easy. There aren’t lines at the polls because the number of precincts has stayed about the same as back in the city’s glory days.
When vacancies occur in county offices, Gary always has had the upper hand in finding a replacement because it has a disproportionate number of precinct committeemen.
The Republican precinct-reduction plan will greatly impact Gary’s clout in a caucus election.
And, yes, a weakened Gary will enhance Republican political chances in Lake County.
Additionally, there will be fewer committeemen to get people to the polls.
Also, a large and strong precinct organization has been a hallmark of Democratic strength in Lake County. Cutting any army weakens a nation.
I don’t blame Slager and fellow Republicans for going after Democratic precinct committeemen, particularly in the urban areas where Republicans are pitifully weak.
But Republicans need to own up to what they are doing and not hide behind the fact they are going to save the county a few bucks. Being upfront might gain them some respect.