CROWN POINT — Lake County's Democratic election officials say they only want to delay, not obstruct a Republican-inspired reduction of the county's smallest precincts.
Last week, the board's three Democrats voted to postpone a resolution by Dana Dumezich and Michael Mellon, the election board's two Republican members, to order staff to make complete the work of consolidating 170 small precincts into their larger neighborhoods by Dec. 31.
Lake County Elections Board Chairman Kevin Smith said he objects to the timing of the measure since making precinct boundary changes in election board computers now could complicate the Nov. 6 general election.
The changes cannot legally go into effect until next year.
The Republican-dominated General Assembly ordered Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson earlier this year to eliminate Lake County precincts with fewer than 600 active voters to save money on Election Day equipment and staffing costs.
Lake Democrats have for years opposed consolidation on grounds it would disproportionately reduce precincts primarily made up of minority voters who would have difficulty traveling the extra distance to consolidated polling places.
Lawson made public Aug. 1 her consolidation plan that, as Democrats feared, cut most deeply into precincts in their north county strongholds of East Chicago, Hammond and Gary.
It will require county officials to shift more than 100 polling places, including 28 in Gary, 24 in Hammond, a dozen in East Chicago, seven in Merrillville, six in Highland, five in Crown Point, four in Munster and a handful in the county's remaining municipalities, but none in Lake Station, St. John and Winfield.
It also will require party leaders to eliminate all the precinct committee members whose precincts were eliminated in the consolidation. That will fall most heavily on Democrats.
Smith said Republicans didn't warn him of their request to make precinct changes now until just before the Aug. 21 meeting. Smith said he was reluctant to make a decision without the presence of longtime Elections Director Michelle Fajman, who is undergoing surgery and unavailable to give her detailed opinion on the matter.
He said Democrats also are looking for assistance from the secretary of state's office.
Smith said he will favorably entertain Dumezich and Mellon's proposal after the fall election. Lake County Clerk Mike Brown, a Democratic elections board member, said, "We aren't being obstructionists."