VALPARAISO | A special prosecutor is being called in to decide if a criminal charge will be filed against newly-elected state Rep. Michael Aylesworth, R-Hebron, on allegations he was illegally inside a polling place for several hours on election day.
Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said he is passing the case along to someone outside his office because he is a longtime friend of Aylesworth, a fellow Republican leader.
Gensel was looking last week for a former prosecutor or a current office holder from another county to review the accusations.
Aylesworth, a former Porter County commissioner, former member of the County Council and former county GOP chair, is accused of using GOP-issued credentials to serve as a poll book holder within the Hebron Community Center where all five Boone Township precincts vote, said Sundae Schoon, the Republican director at the county voter registration office.
Poll book holders are appointed by party chiefs to observe who is casting ballots and then report back so others in the party can work to get more of their supporters to the polls, she said. Aylesworth was working at the site where he votes.
The concern in this case is that Aylesworth was a candidate during the Nov. 4 election.
Candidates are not allowed to be inside a polling place on election day other than to cast their own ballots, said Trent Deckard, Democrat co-director at the election division of the Indiana Secretary of State's office.
The complaint was filed by Boone Township voter Mike Wheeler, who said he found Aylesworth inside the polling place at 1 p.m. and was told by the poll workers he had been there since 8 a.m. County police were sent to the site and asked Aylesworth to leave.
The county election board first heard the complaint, but referred it to the county prosecutor after determining the criminal nature of the accusation was beyond its charge. The members also did not want to foul the investigation.
Indianapolis-based attorney Steve Runyan, who argued before the election board that Aylesworth left the polling place when asked and thus committed no offense because he was not acting in a reckless manner, did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The credentials Aylesworth used to access the polling place was signed by Porter County Republican Chairman Michael Simpson, who said he was as surprised as anyone by news that one of his candidates was working inside a polling place.
"No candidate has any business being in a polling place, period, unless they're there to cast a vote," he said.
Simpson said he did not give Aylesworth the credentials and did not know how they ended up in his hands. The credentials were distributed by campaign workers in an approach that Simpson plans to abolish. He said he plans to hand them out himself to avoid further problems.
"I just thought all my candidates knew the rules," he said.
Kathy Kozuszek, who serves as the Democratic director at the Porter County Voter Registration Office, said she had been told up until the night before the election that neither party would be using poll book holders.
She did not learn differently until calls starting coming in early on election day from poll workers, questioning the presence of the Republican poll book holders. The Aylesworth complaint came in later in the day and county sheriff's police were sent out to ask him to leave, she said.
Simpson said the poll book holders were used in the state house races involving Aylesworth and Ed Soliday, who also was victorious.
Both Democrats and Republican reported having used poll book holders on and off over the years.