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State election commission fails to adopt Lake County precinct consolidation plan

Members and staff of the Indiana Election Commission discuss Lake County precinct consolidation during a meeting Wednesday at the Statehouse. From left, Republican Co-Director Brad King; GOP Commissioner Zachary Klutz; GOP Commissioner Bryce Bennett Jr., the chairman; Democratic Commissioner Anthony Long, vice chairman; Democratic Commissioner Suzannah Wilson Overholt; and Democratic Co-Director Angela Nussmeyer.

INDIANAPOLIS — The stalemate over whether and how to consolidate Lake County's numerous "small" voting precincts continues unabated, and likely is headed for a new venue.

On Wednesday, the four-member Indiana Election Commission was unable to secure the three votes required to adopt either of the two consolidation plans submitted by Lake County Republicans.

And a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Gary-based Indiana NAACP and several Region residents requests a federal judge block the state election commission from adopting any consolidation plan and declare that the consolidation mandate is unconstitutional.

The civil rights organization says in its complaint that precinct consolidation will make it unreasonably difficult for residents of northern Lake County, many of whom are minorities, poor, elderly or disabled, to exercise their right to vote.

Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill is expected to file his response to the lawsuit by the end of the month.

Senate Enrolled Act 220 requires the Indiana Election Commission to adopt a consolidation plan by Sept. 1, but the law does not specify what happens if the commission does not.

Of the two consolidation plans submitted, Plan One, proposed by Lake GOP Chairman Daniel Dernulc, would have eliminated 154 of the county's 523 precincts, saving a projected $102,530 each election through reduced polling place staffing costs.

Plan Two, crafted by Patrick Gabrione, the assistant director of the Lake County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, proposed cutting 126 precincts, saving the county $84,950 at each election.

Under both plans, most of the precincts set for merger had fewer than 600 active voters as of Nov. 1, 2016, and were located in Hammond, East Chicago and Gary.

The second plan maintained Lake County's 11 precincts with between 1,200 and 1,391 active voters, while the first authorized a total of 34 precincts to contain more than 1,200 active voters.

Lake County Democratic Chairman James Wieser did not submit a plan.

Instead, in a letter to the commission, Wieser identified 10 issues with the consolidation mandate that he said needed to be addressed before any action is taken.

The state election commissioners divided along party lines with the two Republicans voting in favor of Plan One, then Plan Two.

The two Democrats opposed both plans. 

As a result, neither plan could be accepted, echoing a similar failure in May when Lake County election officials were unable to agree on a bipartisan consolidation plan after being ordered to devise one by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Its next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 18.


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.