INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Election Commission's inability to agree on a plan for consolidating Lake County's numerous "small" election precincts could end up shifting the task to Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson.
State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, and state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, have proposed amendments to House Bill 1383 and Senate Bill 327 that would require Lawson to fulfill the precinct consolidation mandate enacted last year if the commission fails to do so by July 1.
The four-member commission, comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats, is set March 9 to try again to adopt a consolidation plan after it last year twice failed to garner the three votes necessary to merge Lake precincts with fewer than 600 active voters.
Under the lawmakers' plan, if the commission remains deadlocked, Lawson would be required by Aug. 1 to draw new precinct maps that reduce county election costs and do not impose unreasonable obstacles on voters getting to the polls.
The maps would take effect Jan. 1.
Niemeyer presented the proposal to the Senate on Tuesday, but ultimately withdrew his amendment after several Democratic lawmakers vociferously complained they were not consulted ahead of time about a matter that affects their constituents.
In doing so, Niemeyer pointed out that Lake precinct consolidation was required by a 2017 law, and said his latest measure only ensures that it finally gets done.
He also pledged to call for a Senate vote on his amendment Thursday.
That may not be necessary, however, if Slager succeeds in attaching identical language to a House proposal Wednesday.
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.
The Indiana NAACP has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the precinct consolidation mandate impedes minority voting rights.