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Porter County Administration Center

The Porter County Administration Center

VALPARAISO — Porter County officials believe it's time to move on from playing the blame game in last year's November election debacle.

"I believe the residents of Porter County deserve better than the blame game," Council President Dan Whitten, D-at-large, said.

County Commissioner Laura Blaney agrees.

"The time for pointing fingers is over. The SOS (Secretary of State) election report, released some weeks ago, was based on almost 20 interviews of local people from both political parties who were near the election process," Blaney, D-South, said.

Their comments follow those by Porter County Democrat Chairman Jeff Chidester during a forum hosted by Indivisible NWI Saturday.

During the forum, Chidester blamed the Porter County Council and county election board for the election disaster, which saw polls unmanned and caused a three-day delay in totaling votes.

Chidester contended the council's removal of his wife, Kathy Kozuszek, the Democrat representative in the county voter registration office, from the election process caused the election to fail. He also blamed Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson for not stepping in sooner when she should have known the election was headed for trouble.

Lawson, in a report, blamed, in part, Kozuszek, along with Election Board Chairman J.J. Stankiewicz and former County Clerk Karen Martin. Martin is no longer county clerk, and Stankiewicz resigned last month after a video-recorded argument with new County Clerk Jessica Bailey in which he pointed fingers and yelled.

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Kozuszek has filed a lawsuit against members of the election board stating her request for overtime pay prompted her removal from the election process.

"There was an independent audit performed by the secretary of state that identified specific individuals that were problematic in the past election debacle. Those individuals will no longer be involved in the election process," Whitten said in a written statement.

"The council is working diligently with the commissioners and newly elected clerk to ensure that the unfortunate events of last year will not reoccur. Although the council is merely the fiscal branch of county government, we have always and will continue to do everything in our power to ensure fair, effective and honest elections in our county."

Blaney said independent reports make it clear what failed during the Porter County election.

"The report is backed by VSTOP, an independent voting oversight program, sponsored by Ball State University. These two reports are the closest we are going to get to determining, with any type of data, what actually went wrong and who is to blame," Blaney said.

"More important, at this point, is making sure this doesn't happen again. The county clerk, commissioners, council and our local legislators are all working together, across party lines, to create a system that will restore voter confidence. The people mentioned in the reports have thrown up the only roadblocks," Blaney said in a written statement.

"To date, at the request of Clerk Jessica Bailey, the commissioners have already increased poll worker pay significantly as well as made mandatory poll worker training a paid activity for the first time. The commissioners' office is also working with Clerk Bailey to extensively recruit poll workers by getting the word out via our various departments' Facebook pages, websites and email lists," Blaney added. "We also signed a contract for new voting equipment that should streamline the process. The council has been very proactive, helpful and supportive of all these initiatives.

"Just today myself, Clerk Bailey and Councilman Jeff Larson were in Indianapolis testifying in a senate committee hearing in favor of HB 1217, a bill that directly addresses the problems that surfaced during Porter County's 2018 elections and lays out viable solutions. The bill was written by (State Rep.) Ed Soliday and has a bipartisan group of Porter County legislators listed as co-authors."

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.