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St. John

A large crowd of St. John voters joins some Republican council candidates May 7 at Michels Sports Eatery in St. John after the polls closed. Clerk-Treasurer Beth Hernandez joined Wayne "Waterman" Pondinas, Paul Panczuk and Michael Schilling to celebrate as primary election results came in.

CROWN POINT — The Lake County Board of Elections closed the book on a primary election dispute Tuesday, declining to refer a St. John bar to the prosecutor’s office for allegedly offering a reward for voting.

At issue was a promotion offered by the bar Sips & Stones, which promised a 20% discount to any customer displaying an “I Voted” sticker from early voting ahead of the May 7 primary.

Three Republican challengers for St. John town council — Paul Panczuk, Bryan Blazak and Wayne Pondinas — encouraged supporters to take advantage of the offer on their official campaign Facebook pages. In response, several Republican incumbents filed a joint election complaint, alleging the challengers had violated state election law by offering a monetary reward in exchange for voting.

In a public hearing May 4, the Democratic-majority board voted 3-2 along party lines to toss the complaint. However, the board unanimously agreed to look into whether Sips & Stones had colluded with the St. John challengers on the promotion and, if so, whether the bar should be further investigated by county prosecutors.

On Tuesday, the Republican counsel to the board, John Reed, said it appeared the bar “acted in its own capacity” in coming up with the early voting promotion. There was no evidence the promotion was intended to influence people to vote for certain candidates, he added.

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“I don’t think this was done maliciously,” Reed said.

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The board’s Democratic counsel, Michael Tolbert, agreed, advising against referring the owner of Sips & Stones to prosecutors.

“I don’t know if (you’d be) sending the wrong message by turning this over to the prosecutor,” Tolbert said, adding that doing so would be a “heavy handed” response.

Following Tolbert’s recommendation, none of the board members offered a motion for further action on the issue.

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