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Governor mandates consolidation of Lake County election precincts

Gov. Eric Holcomb

INDIANAPOLIS — A new law signed Tuesday by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb will eliminate up to half of Lake County's election precincts, primarily in Hammond, East Chicago and Gary.

Senate Enrolled Act 220, which took effect immediately, establishes a bipartisan committee tasked with devising by June 1 a preliminary plan for merging as many precincts as possible that have fewer than 600 active voters.

Under the new law, should county election officials fail to submit an agreed upon precinct consolidation plan to the state by Aug. 1, then the Indiana Election Commission will act to reduce the county's precinct count.

The goal, according to state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, the sponsor, is to bring Lake County's precincts closer to the statewide average of 1,200 voters each.

That will save thousands of dollars every election year by reducing polling place staffing and equipment costs at voting sites that see only a handful of ballots cast on Election Day, he said.

Records show Lake County has the most small precincts in Indiana with 283 of its 523 precincts recording fewer than 600 active voters.

The majority of those precincts are concentrated in the northern cities where old precincts have remained intact, and precinct committeemen have retained their party positions, despite the county's population generally shifting southward.

Opponents of the measure claimed it is unconstitutional special legislation because the precinct consolidation mandate only applies to Lake County.

However, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last year that special legislation is appropriate in this instance since Lake County's small precinct numbers are excessive relative to the state's 91 other counties.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.