Lake County election officials receive a controversial precinct reduction plan

Lake County Elections Board Director Michelle Fajman, a Democrat, left and LeAnn Angerman, the ranking Republican on the election staff, center, discuss a consolidation plan delivered last week by Brandon Clifton, chief of staff of the Indiana secretary of state's office, right.

CROWN POINT — Lake County Democrats aren't declaring defeat yet in the state's effort to reduce the county's 523 precincts.

The Lake County elections board met Tuesday for the first time since Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson made public a detailed list of the 170 mergers of small precincts the General Assembly mandated earlier.

Most cuts came at the expense of their north county strongholds of East Chicago, Hammond and Gary.

It will require county officials to shift more than 100 polling places, including 28 in Gary, 24 in Hammond, a dozen in East Chicago, seven in Merrillville, six in Highland, five in Crown Point, four in Munster and a handful in the county's remaining municipalities, but none in Lake Station, St. John and Winfield.

It will also requires party leaders to eliminate all the precinct committee members whose precincts were eliminated in the consolidation. That will fall most heavily on Democrats. Democrats protest the mergers make voting more inconvenient.

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Dana Dumezich and Michael Mellon, the election board's two Republican members, asked the full board Tuesday to comply with the reductions, but the board's three Democrats voted to table the Republican's motion indefinitely.

Dumezich asked why and Kevin Smith, the board's chairman and a Democrat, said they wanted to await further instructions from Lawson's office.

Valerie Warycha, deputy chief of staff and communications director for Lawson, told The Times after the meeting, "We have not been asked any specific questions. We recommend they follow the law."

Board members wished a speedy recovery to Michelle Fajman, the county's longtime elections director, who is on leave to undergo surgery for cancer. Paula Miraldi is serving as acting elections director during Fajman's absence.

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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.