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Candidate Harper says Porter County election isn't running smoothly

Jim Harper, a Valparaiso Democrat running for Indiana secretary of state, talks on the steps of the Porter County Administration Center about what he sees as election irregularities in the county.

VALPARAISO — Porter County hasn’t been handling the election well this fall, said Secretary of State candidate Jim Harper, a Democrat from Valparaiso.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin, a Republican, denied the allegations. The county clerk is the top local election official.

The secretary of state is Indiana’s top election official, Harper noted. Martin is running for county auditor after serving the maximum eight consecutive years as county clerk.

Harper said his campaign and others have talked to “numerous voters across the county” who haven’t received absentee ballots on a timely basis.

“When you receive an application for an absentee ballot, state law requires that the ballot be sent out the day that it is received,” Harper said Wednesday during a news conference on the steps of the Porter County Administration Center.

“We have talked to voters who waited 10, 15, 20 days,” he said.

Martin said the county is up to date in sending them; she was sending ballots received the previous day when contacted for comment.

It takes seven or more days to receive mail when it’s routed through south suburban Illinois for processing, she said.

Harper said he is urging Hoosiers to vote early if they are concerned about not getting absentee ballots in time.

Monday is the deadline for the county clerk’s office to receive applications for absentee ballots.

Until the primary election, Kathy Kozuszek, Democratic director of the Porter County voter registration office, had been involved in running election as well as registering voters for the past 18 years. The clerk’s office, which now runs elections in the county, is "severely understaffed,” she said.

Council President Andy Bozak, R-1st, said the council is prepared to ensure the election goes smoothly.

“The council is all hands on deck for everything we have to do,” he said.

Portage City Councilwoman Sue Lynch, D-At-Large, asked about how to help shut-ins vote. Lynch said she tried calling the county to arrange for the traveling board to visit her friend in the hospital, but she got transferred in a circle before giving up.

Kozuszek suggested she go to the courthouse right away to find someone who would talk to her and set up a visit.

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County Councilwoman Sylvia Graham, D-At-Large, said her granddaughter at Indiana University wanted to vote absentee but didn’t get a returned phone call. Graham said she likely would pick up her granddaughter and bring her back to Porter County to vote early.

Kozuszek said she has heard from numerous people who say they want to vote absentee but haven’t had phone calls returned.

“I’ve begged with them, pleaded with them, to get out and vote early,” she said.

“If we lose one vote, it’s one vote too many,” Kozuszek said.

Storing ballots

“We have also heard reports of ballots just being stored haphazardly,” Harper said.

Ballots already cast must be secured by two locks with two keys, for the Republican and Democratic appointees to the Election Board.

That’s being done, Martin said, but Election Board members have to sign each time they pick up and return the key.

Poll workers

Harper also said many poll workers still haven’t received assignments for Election Day.

Barbara DeLeon, of Chesterton, said Tuesday she has been an election judge for six years and is fully trained, but still hasn’t been assigned.

“Why are they not calling me since I’ve been a judge for years and I know the whole procedure?” she asked.

Martin said the Republicans and Democratic chairmen are supposed to recommend poll workers. A total of 246 are needed from each party, she said.

The Democratic Party chairman, however, provided only 49 recommendations, Martin said.

Each precinct requires five poll workers. Reducing that number would require the unanimous consent of the county Election Board.

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