INDIANAPOLIS — There appears to be strong support in the House Elections Committee for legislation revamping Porter County election administration after state lawmakers sanded down some of the sharper edges in House Bill 1217 on Thursday.
Gone is the provision empowering the county's political party chairmen to select the director and assistant director who will oversee day-to-day operations at the new board of elections and registration.
The directors, who must belong to different political parties, instead will be chosen by the county clerk, subject to the bipartisan approval of the five-person election board.
That change, which was unanimously approved by the committee, should prevent the current Democratic director, Kathy Kozuszek, from being forced out of her job due to the legislation's anti-nepotism requirement.
Under the original proposal, Kozuszek's husband, Porter County Democratic Chairman Jeff Chidester, could not have chosen Kozuszek to remain the Democratic director, since the proposed new law bars any appointment of a direct relative.
The measure was also changed to have the the director and assistant director, instead of the political party chairmen, select the election board employees, who also would have to win bipartisan approval from the board to officially be hired.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, sponsor of the legislation, along with state Reps. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, and Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, said he believes the revised proposal will help prevent the voting site problems and tabulation delays that plagued the Nov. 6 election in Porter County.
"One of the things we heard from everybody is that we needed accountability," Soliday said. "So we've tried to come up with something that mitigates some of the problems that cascaded into the election problems that we had."
Porter County Clerk Jessica Bailey, a Democrat first elected in November, told the committee that she supports the proposed changes, and is prepared to shoulder the responsibility associated with making the election process run more smoothly.
"It also allows for the voters to keep accountability in their officials, so if they don't think it's being run right — they can get rid of me," Bailey said.
Mike Jessen, a Republican Porter County Council member, likewise endorsed the revised legislation. He told the committee that both the County Council and Board of Commissioners are in full support of the measure.
"Politics, as you know, can be an ugly business at times, especially when personalities and partisanship get involved it can be especially nasty," Jessen said.
"I think House Bill 1217 does a lot for us in the county to help eliminate some of that, take that out of the process, and certainly increase the supervision and oversight of what happens in the election."
The committee still is considering whether to apply the anti-nepotism requirement in the proposal to election boards in all 92 Indiana counties.
State Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, the committee chairman, said the panel will finalize the measure next week and vote on advancing it to the full House.