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EAST CHICAGO | A city councilwoman is asking state and federal investigators to prevent vote fraud she fears could be taking place in advance of the May 5 primary.

Councilwoman Gilda Orange, D-6th, is calling on Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller in a letter addressed to him, U.S. Attorney David Capp and FBI Special Agent Donald Cooley.

Orange provided The Times with a copy of the letter Monday in which she is asking for their oversight of upcoming balloting for 39 candidates in 11 contested races for mayor, clerk and City Council.

Orange, who is seeking re-election and facing three Democratic opponents this spring, said she believes the apparent vote fraud is aimed at influencing the races for mayor and city clerk.

She states in the letter, "I have received several alleged complaints that individuals are illegally acquiring absentee ballots and paying monies for votes. I respectfully ask for you to help the residents of East Chicago have a fair election on May 5 — as they deserve."

Bryan Corbin, public information officer for the attorney general, said Monday afternoon his office hasn't received the letter and will reserve comment at present.

Ryan Holmes, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, said his office doesn't comment on requests for federal investigations. An FBI spokeswoman said Monday they are unaware of Orange's request, although the FBI does respond to complaints of vote fraud.

Orange alleges, "It is important to mention that there are individuals that had been indicted in the previous administration that are now involved in this upcoming election, leaving me and many of my constituents to question whether the election will be fair and honest," she states in a letter dated March 31.

Vote fraud in East Chicago was so widespread during the 2003 East Chicago mayoral campaign between then former Mayor Robert Pastrick and his challenger George Pabey that the Indiana Supreme Court overturned Pastrick's narrow victory that year and required a new election in 2004 that toppled Pastrick's administration.

Pastrick was never accused of criminal wrongdoing, but evidence from that same primary resulted in Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter and former Attorney General Steve Carter conducting a grand jury investigation that resulted in the conviction of 46 people for illegally manipulating absentee ballot applications and voting in the 2003 primary.

A spokeswoman for the county prosecutor's office said they haven't received a request from Orange to investigate vote fraud. The prosecutor's office does monitor complaints of election fraud before and on election day, but usually submits those complaints to the county elections board, which oversees voting and campaign violations.

Michelle Fajman, county elections director, said Monday she is unaware of the allegations. The elections board has mailed out more than 1,000 absentee ballots so far and received more than 250 ballots cast.

The elections board, which met Monday, did reject 142 applications for absentee ballots for the upcoming primary.

She said the rejections were based on applications from voters who didn't live at the addresses listed in voter records or who didn't sign their applications properly. Fajman said only a handful involved East Chicago.

The elections board is asking the county prosecutor to investigate two unrelated incidents where voters allegedly voted twice in previous elections.

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.