CROWN POINT — The Lake County Board of Elections is looking into allegations of illegal electioneering and improper access to a polling place in East Chicago during last month’s primary election.
At a public meeting Tuesday, board members took up a formal complaint from Bert Flores, the Democratic precinct committeeman in EC-7.
Flores alleged a wide range of misconduct at the polling place at McKinley Elementary School, including electioneering just outside the entrance, an apparent violation of state election law. He claimed Beverly Armenta, the Democratic Party-appointed site leader, refused to enforce a rule requiring electioneers to stay at least 50 feet away from an entrance to a polling place.
Flores also accused supporters of East Chicago Clerk Adrian Santos and council candidate Dwanye Rancifer Jr. of harassing him for pointing out apparent electioneering violations.
According to Flores, Armenta was appointed polling place lead by Christine Russell, the chair of the East Chicago Democratic precinct organization. Armenta is the mother-in-law of East Chicago Councilman Lenny Franciski, D-2.
“As the appointed precinct officer, (Armenta) ignored my disapproval of her violating the 50 feet electioneering policy implemented and strongly enforced for many years by the state of Indiana,” Flores wrote in his complaint. “I also was assaulted and harassed by electioneers working for candidates and elected officials.”
Armenta was not available for comment by press time Tuesday night.
Flores’ account was backed by Benita White Arnold, who unsuccessfully challenged Santos in the primary. Electioneers with campaign signs were lined up well within the “chute” reserved for voters, poll workers and credentialed election watchers, according to Arnold.
Armenta was “acting like she wasn’t aware of the 50-foot rule,” Arnold said, adding that the apparent violation was only corrected when Flores mentioned it.
“She did comply (with the rule), but she probably would have continued that day if nobody brought it up,” Arnold told the board members.
As part of the same complaint, Flores claimed that Armenta repeatedly accessed the voting area even though she wasn’t a credentialed poll watcher or challenger. Elections board Director Michelle Fajman confirmed Armenta was not registered as a challenger, but said the board would have to investigate whether she was issued a credential as a representative of the Democratic Party.
“She wasn’t even that,” Flores told The Times, referring to the possibility that Armenta could have accessed the polling place as a watcher on behalf of a candidate. “She had no credentials whatsoever.”
Following Flores’ testimony, the board voted unanimously to defer the complaint until its next meeting in July. In the meantime, the board’s counsel will gather further information about the allegations and ask Armenta for her side of the story.
Board chairman Kevin Smith and Democratic counsel Michael Tolbert recused themselves from addressing Flores’ complaint, citing their ongoing legal work for the city of East Chicago.