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Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.

It had all the earmarks of a loud and vitriolic squabble erupting among child siblings at a nice restaurant.

It's the kind of boisterous scene in which the faces of the offending children's parents flash a violet hue of embarrassment while the evening of the other patrons, who just wanted a quiet meal for their money, is utterly ruined.

Only the stakes were so much higher, affecting a core principle of our democracy.

We watched a real-life scenario — mirroring such embarrassing circumstances — play out in the 2018 Porter County general election last November.

For weeks leading up to the election, Porter County election officials — including Democratic Election Board President J.J. Stankiewicz, Democratic voter registration Director Kathy Kozuszek then-Republican Clerk Karen Martin — knew of potential problems the county faced in both organization and manpower for handing the general election.

Porter County Election

Kathy Kozuszek, Karen Martin and J.J. Stankiewicz

But they were too busy finger-pointing, arguing, shouting at and insulting one another in well-documented and recorded public meetings.

It all collapsed in a sinkhole of its own vitriol during the Nov. 6 election.

The good news is Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson has stepped in to play the role of stern parent.

The bad news is we'll have to rely on the already-suspect judgment of two Porter County election officials to do the right thing and resign, as Lawson has admonished them to do.

Lawson's office was turned to for help after the county's 2018 general election tally was three days late as a result of numerous problems, including 12 polling places opening late, a shortage of poll workers and accusations of mishandled ballots.

The rights of scores of Porter County residents to vote during designated polling place hours fell victim to this incompetence induced by vitriol.

In an audit and subsequent report released last week, Lawson placed the blame for the election collapse, which made embarrassing headlines throughout the state and abroad, squarely at the feet of Stankiewicz, Kozuszek and Martin.

And it specifically calls on Stankiewicz and Kozuszek to resign.

We no longer have to worry about Martin. Mercifully, she didn't run for re-election as clerk because of term limits and was defeated in her bid to become the elected county auditor in November. In the days following the November election debacle, Martin hid from the public eye rather than leading, and Porter County voters should never forget that.

Stankiewicz and Kozuszek should heed Lawson's admonition to resign. And they should be feeling pressure from all Porter County residents to do so.

More than four months after the collapse, neither of the remaining offending parties appear to have done anything to improve the venomous environment that led to the election collapse.

In fact, after viewing a video recording of a March 8 Porter County Election Board meeting, things seem to be getting worse.

The video began recording before the meeting even began, and the conversation starts out cordial enough.

Stankiewicz greets newly elected Porter County Clerk Jessica Bailey.

"How you doing, madame clerk?" Stankiewicz says as he begins to take his position at the meeting table.

"Good. How are you?" Bailey responds.

The pleasantries essentially end there.

A disagreement ahead of the meeting of "who had contacted who about what" devolves into a condescending Stankiewicz pointing his finger at Bailey, at times telling her to "listen to me" and to "shut up."

The yelling is so loud and so overlapping between the two parties, the argument becomes unintelligible in the audio.

For her part, it's hard to blame the new clerk for raising her voice in the argument.

Stankiewicz's childish antics are already well documented. It would be untenable for most reasonably minded public officials to deal with him.

Watching the video, Stankiewicz at times takes aggressive movements toward Bailey, arching his arm toward her as he points to make his argument.

Any reasonable person would feel unjustly intimidated or even threatened by that. Any reasonable son, father or husband watching this aggressive stance toward his mother, daughter or wife would be inclined to help the culprit to a more cordial posture.

In short, Stankiewicz was the clear aggressor — a bully.

Kozuszek also has shown a lack of appropriate decorum in past public meetings, shouting and pointing fingers rather than leading toward solutions.

And right now we need harmony in the ranks to fix the problem, not venom and bullying tactics.

Our secretary of state, the highest-ranking election official in Indiana, recognizes this in her report.

All Porter County residents and leaders must recognize it too.

It's time for Stankiewicz and Kozuszek to resign and, as the secretary of state suggests, never be allowed to touch another election again.

Local News Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 933-3327 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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