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VALPARAISO — The Porter County Board of Commissioners has asked the FBI to investigate potential violations of the law in the wake of problems that continue to delay the local results of Tuesday's general election.

The commissioners referred to "scores of alleged violations of Indiana Election Law submitted by poll workers, voters and the public to the Commissioners," according to a prepared statement.

The target of those allegations was not made known nor were any further details released.

The Porter County Voter Registration Office had long run local elections until earlier this year, when Republican Election Board members Karen Martin and David Bengs voted to transfer the authority to the county clerk's office headed up by Martin.

Lone Democratic Election Board member J.J. Stankiewicz opposed the move, saying it was improper because Martin, as a candidate on this year's ballot, is prohibited from administering the election.

Martin, who is running for county auditor against Democratic incumbent Vicki Urbanik, disagreed and argued further that her current staff was capable of handling the additional work of elections, along with the two positions in the voter registration office funded by the election board.

Martin, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, said Tuesday of poll workers, "We had a lot of people quit on us at the last minute."

Additional problems stemmed from poll inspectors not picking up cases of supplies, and sites not being opened when poll workers arrived, she said.

The county commissioners said the ballot count, which did not get underway until Wednesday morning, or more than 15 hours after the first polling places closed, likely will not be completed and released Wednesday.

The commissioners earlier attempted to defend the integrity of the vote count in the wake of polling places opening late, absentee ballots not being delivered to polling sites as required by law and concerns about the ballot room being breached overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.

"As ordered by the Commissioners, all ballots were protected at all times since they were delivered last night in a room guarded by the Porter County Sheriff’s Department," the commissioners said in their statement.

"To assure the integrity of the vote count, the Commissioners have also ordered the Sheriff’s Department to secure all areas where votes are being counted. The election office in the courthouse has also been secured by Sheriff’s deputies."

'Very thorough' count underway

All votes cast between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday — absentees and early votes — will be counted Wednesday, said Sundae Schoon, Republican director of the office, before any results will be released. Provisional ballots and those cast after 6 p.m. Tuesday at the dozen precincts that had their hours extended due to a late opening will be counted Nov. 16, as is typically the case.

Schoon said she and her Democratic counterpart, Kathy Kozuszek, have been appointed by the Porter County Election Board and political party chairmen and chairwomen as watchers of the vote tabulation.

Schoon could not give a time as to when the count might be finished.

"We are being very thorough," Kozuszek said.

Porter County Republican Chairman Michael Simpson said his biggest concern at this point is that the bipartisan effort to count the votes is underway and goes smoothly. Only after that work is done should the emphasis shift to what went wrong with the local elections — and how to fix it.

The questions of why several voting places failed to open on time Tuesday, and why absentee and early voting ballots were not delivered timely to most polling places as required by law is already being asked by many officials on and off the ballot, as well as voters, who are unhappy with the problems and delays.

While Stankiewicz raised concern Wednesday morning that security had been breached overnight at the room where ballots were kept, other officials said that was not the case.

Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds said one of his officers was posted at the ballot room all night and tape was not used. Reynolds said he does not believe there was any breach of security.

Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said the sheriff has confirmed his officers stood watch over the room containing the ballots Tuesday night, and that it does not appear there was a security issue.

However, the matter is being reviewed, other county officials said.

"People need to keep cool heads through this process," Blaney said.

"They need to focus on the facts. There are enough real problems without inventing any. We're trying to work through this in the best way possible, and we need everyone to hold it together."

Stankiewicz also pointed to a problem with the counting of absentee and early voting ballots.

He said he walked into the county courthouse about 1:05 a.m. Wednesday, and there were women sitting on the floor of the rotunda counting absentee and early voting ballots.

The absentee and early ballots should have been delivered to the Porter County Administration Center a couple of blocks away, he said.

Stankiewicz repeatedly said he anticipated there would be attempts Wednesday to place blame on poll workers, but they had nothing to do with it, he said.

"It's a joke," he said. "This is all at the feet of the clerk of court, Karen Martin."

Bengs was present as Stankiewicz spoke with the media Wednesday morning, but he declined to comment.

Officials sound off

Reynolds said his concerns about the integrity of the election in Porter County began about 5 a.m. Tuesday, when his office was asked to send four officers to deliver absentee and early voting ballots to various polling locations.

When people vote early, their ballots are supposed to be delivered back to their precincts on Election Day to be counted.

In years past, the Sheriff’s Department has sent six to eight officers in the morning and six to eight officers in the afternoon to deliver these types of ballots, Reynolds said.

When the officers arrived Tuesday as requested, they learned the ballots were not yet ready to be delivered, Reynolds said. When officers began delivering them, it was just a small portion of them, he said.

In a late legal maneuver, the Porter County Democratic Party secured a judge’s order after some polls closed at 6 p.m., requiring absentee and early voting ballots to be counted as regular votes.

Reynolds said his officers were called on to lend a hand in processing ballots at the courthouse.

“I just feel terrible for anybody on the ballot,” said Reynolds, who was on the ballot himself but ran unopposed.

Porter County Auditor Vicki Urbanik was seeking re-election in a race against Martin, who is scheduled to complete her second term as clerk this year.

“I’m more concerned about the overall integrity of the election,” Urbanik said.

Urbanik said while serving as auditor, that she stressed integrity, transparency and ethics.

“The voters deserve better than this,” she said.

Stankiewicz defended poll workers, again saying any attempt to blame them for Tuesday’s problems would be false.

If poll workers are insulted, “we’re going to have a tough time each time we do this, because it’s not worth it,” he said.

Officials finished accepting ballots at the administration center about 1:05 a.m., which posed a problem for elderly poll workers and those who are diabetic, he said.

“We popped for carry-out Subway so they could eat while they waited,” he said. “You don’t do that to senior citizens.”

Problems at polls Tuesday

The delay in counting votes came after a day of problems at the polls and legal wrangling by the Porter County election board, Porter County Democratic Party and Indiana Republican Party Central Committee.

About a dozen polls in Porter County opened up to 2 1/2 hours late on Election Day, prompting a judge to order 12 polls to remain open later than their scheduled 6 p.m. closing time.

Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford issued an order Tuesday morning extending hours at the 12 polls. However, Indiana Republicans pushed Tuesday afternoon for Bradford to reverse his order, arguing voters had plenty of time to cast their ballots through early voting and absentee ballots.

Bradford scheduled an emergency hearing where he upheld his earlier order, but refused Democrats’ request to extend hours at a 13th polling location — Portage Township 23 — that also had opened late.

Later Tuesday, Judge Pro Tem Julia Jent ordered Porter County election officials to count all absentee and early ballots Tuesday night as regular ballots, even if they were delivered to polling places late in the day or after the voting ended.

Jent issued the ruling in response to a petition sought by local Democrats, who claimed Martin did not get the absentee ballots to their respective polling places until late in the voting day, or after the polls were closed.

Tuesday's fiasco prompted two Porter County commissioners to say late Tuesday night the problems can never happen again.

Porter County Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, said everyone working on the vote count Tuesday night looked exhausted.

He attributed the problems to a variety of factors, including a "combination of a heavy voter turnout, the problems of several polling places not opening on time and other problems that will be discussed in the near future.

“Something drastic needs to be done to ensure this never happens again," Biggs said. "What we have here is a total breakdown in the process. Big changes are coming due to this."

Blaney said a combination of snafus in opening polling locations on time, polling places that had to be kept open later as a result, and absentee and early ballots that either weren’t sorted or counted in a timely fashion contributed to the backlog.

Several Porter County officials would be probing the problems in coming days to determine why they occurred, she said.

Echoing Biggs, Blaney also said, "Big changes are coming due to this."

Times staff writers Sarah Reese and Joyce Russell contributed to this report.

Check back at nwi.com for updates to this story.

Election Day: Complete Region results

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.