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Porter County elections crew seeks reinforcements

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Porter County elections crew seeks reinforcements

Jeff Chidester and other members of the Porter County Election Board watch as Elections & Registration Office Director Sundae Schoon sorts through provisional ballots Friday.

VALPARAISO — Porter County’s elections crew racked up more than 700 hours of overtime in the last two months to make sure the primary election went off without a hitch, Porter County Clerk Jessica Bailey told the county Election Board on Friday.

That’s about five weeks’ worth of effort for two additional employees, she said.

Bailey has repeatedly asked for more employees for the Elections & Registration Office but has been turned down by the County Council each time, she added.

“I’m going to ask for two more people,” Bailey said. Because it’s a bipartisan office, positions must be filled in pairs — one Democrat and one Republican.

Director Sundae Schoon and Assistant Director Becky Rauch are overburdened, she said.

“They put their entire lives on hold, are here over 168 hours in a two-week time,” Bailey said. “Who else is asked to do that?”

“I don’t think I could do that again,” Schoon said. She and Rauch were so tired after the election that they couldn’t even think straight. “We couldn’t even make words. We were just staring at each other,” Schoon said.

Yet if Schoon or Rauch work less than 35 hours in a single week, their pay is docked.

“Regardless of our 16.54% turnout, we have to plan for 100%,” Bailey said, in case more people than expected show up at the polls. “It’s like preparing a Thanksgiving dinner and planning for 50 but only two people turn out.”

Having two additional deputy clerks would allow Schoon and Rauch to go to high schools and elsewhere to help register voters, show how to vote and hopefully boost turnout, Bailey said.

Schoon and Rauch don’t get overtime pay. Instead, they’re eligible for compensatory time off. But with 315 hours of comp time, how can they use it up without affecting the operations of the office?

The office has plenty of work year-round to keep two additional full-time employees busy, Schoon said. The staff began working on the general election immediately after the May 3 primary, even before the results were certified Friday.

At Friday’s meeting, the Election Board reviewed 25 provisional ballots and counted 11 of them. An additional 11 ballots were absentee without a signature or with signatures that didn’t match. Those voters were given time, allowed by state law, to provide a new signature at the elections office.

Two ballots were from military or overseas voters. Those were counted as well.

The 24 additional ballots didn’t affect any of the results of close races. Certifying the election results starts the clock for candidates to seek recounts.

This was the county’s first election with vote centers, allowing voters to use any polling place and not just the one assigned to their precinct.

One problem was voters who printed their ballot to cast their vote and then started to walk out of the polling place without putting their ballot in the machine to be tallied. That confusion likely was caused by watching national news mentioning receipts and not realizing that Indiana doesn’t provide voters with receipts. The voters were printing actual ballots after making their choices.

Another problem was an error in printing the ballot, likely resulting from yanking the ballot out of the printer too soon, Election Board Chairman Paul Rausch said. A bipartisan team recreates ballots that can’t be read by the machine so the voter’s intent is carried out.

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