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Lake County seeking to reduce conflicts among poll workers

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CROWN POINT — The Lake County election board is taking steps to reduce conflicts among polling place workers amid an unprecedented rise in "meanness," based both on personality and partisanship.

The bipartisan election oversight panel directed its staff Tuesday to expand poll worker training by including more information on proper workplace behavior, conflict resolution and kindness, as well as compiling a list of poll workers who seem to repeatedly instigate feuds with their colleagues.

“A lot of times we have people that may have been out of a professional setting for a period of time, and what might have been appropriate when they were working may not be appropriate now,” said Kevin Smith, election board chairman.

Michelle Fajman, executive director of the Lake County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, said the May primary election saw more animosity among poll workers than any prior election.

She said there were a number of arguments over policies and procedures that occasionally devolved into shouting matches in front of voters, which in past years would have been resolved by working together to figure out the right thing to do.

Some poll workers also sniped at each other over food at polling sites, allegations of incompetence and made repeated snide comments, Fajman said.

“There was just a lot more meanness out there to each other,” Fajman said. “A lot more than we’ve ever experienced.”

Fajman attributed the rise to a willingness among some people, particularly in the political realm, to say anything they think without first thinking about how another person might react to it, along with the constant questioning of motives even when a person has given no reason to doubt their honesty.

“We know it’s a long day. But just try to be pleasant and follow the rule of treat others as you want to be treated,” Fajman said.

The board as a whole got a glimpse of some of the issues at stake as it weighed a complaint filed by three workers at the Munster early voting site (two Republicans and one Democrat) against a Republican election official.

The complainants alleged the official repeatedly spoke in a rude and condescending manner to them and to voters, showed no patience with voters needing extra assistance, urged one poll worker to throw a bottle of water at another poll worker and generally was disruptive to the effective operation of the polling site.

The official denied the allegations, including the claim they were racially motivated. She insisted she always was polite to her colleagues and to voters and never suggested anyone hit anyone with anything.

The election board ultimately dismissed the complaint because it found the official’s behavior, whether accurately described or not, did not amount to a violation of state election law.

At the same time, the board unanimously agreed action is needed to reduce or prevent similar conflicts among Lake County election workers in the future.

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It was a busy night for 2022 primary candidates as election results came in. Catch up on their reactions, the results and more from the May primary election.

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Peggy Holinga-Katona said she looks forward to working alongside John Petalas, who won the nomination for Lake County Treasurer.

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Unofficial results show Jennifer-Ruth Green, of Crown Point, prevailed Tuesday in the Republican primary for U.S. House District 1 over former LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo and five other GOP contenders.

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Check out a list of local election results from the 2022 May primary.

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"It's not dead," a Valparaiso poll worker said. But, "It's not like a general election (with voters) outside the door."

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Turnout was slow across much of Northwest Indiana, which poll workers said is typical for an off-year primary election.

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