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Lake County election officials receive a controversial precinct reduction plan

Lake County Elections Board Director Michelle Fajman, a Democrat, left and LeAnn Angerman, the ranking Republican on the election staff, center, discuss a consolidation plan delivered last week by Brandon Clifton, chief of staff of the Indiana secretary of state's office, right.

Residents of Schneider will have to have to drive miles out of town starting next year to vote in future local, state and federal elections.

Richard Ludlow, a former town councilman, said his town's only polling place has been moved from the centrally-located Schneider Community Center to the Lake County Highway Department garage six miles north on U.S. 41.

Michelle Fajman said town democrats requested the move because only 23 voted there in the spring primary, while the polling place on U.S. 41 received nearly three times as many voters.

Nevertheless, Ludlow is not the only one fuming about how the the state-mandated consolidation of the county's precincts and polling places is shaking up Lake County's political landscape.

Michelle Fajman, the county elections director, made public Thursday a detailed list of the the 170 mergers of small precincts required by the General Assembly.

Most cuts came at the expense of their north county strongholds of East Chicago, Hammond and Gary, but Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson's consolidation requires 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.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said, "I'm not saying it didn't have to be done. The injustice was, that we in the city didn't have any input. They made the choice and we had to live with it.  We surely should have had some say where polling places in our city will do the greatest good."

LeAnn Angerman, the ranking Republican on the county elections board, said the decision on which polling place are to remain and which are to be eliminated was done by the state secretary's office based on a number of factors, including which of the precincts being merged has the most active voters last year.

Lake County Democratic Chairman James Wieser, who opposes the state-mandated changes, said they are eliminating the polling place in the East Chicago historic Marktown neighborhood. "Where are those residents going to have to go to vote, nowhere nearby," Wieser said.

Wieser said the precinct reduction also will force him to eliminate up to 170 of his party's precinct committee members.

"That is the last thing I want to do. We had a lot of new committeemen who were excited and wanted to get involved. And I hurt for another I met who said they had been a committeeman for 36 years and know when people get married and their children graduate and someone dies and now he doesn't have a precinct anymore. Its just awful." 

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the elimination of five precincts in his city's heavily Hispanic 2nd District will have a disproportionate impact in party caucuses to fill public office vacancies. "If there is a citywide caucus in Hammond, their ability to influence a decision is muted."

Bert Flores Jr., Democratic committee of East Chicago's 7th precinct, said he is concerned he will get cut because of his opposition to city hall policies. "I'm an activist. I am a true public servant. I want a fair decision and not one based on politics."

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.