La PORTE – A discussion over whether the county should move polls out of Michigan City Area Schools buildings broke down into accusations of racism, voter intimidation and indifference from county officials on Friday.
At an often-contemptuous special meeting Friday at the La Porte County Complex, the La Porte County Election Board discussed relocating several Michigan City polling places before November's general election.
The discussion became heated at several points as board members, county officials and members of the public shared their widely-varying thoughts on the issue.
Election Board member Amber Poff shared the recommendations she and a small committee of citizens developed as alternatives to the MCAS buildings the county used for polling sites during May's primary election.
Their suggestions included:
• Moving Precincts 5 and 6 from the Elston Building to the Michigan City Moose Lodge
• Moving Precincts 20, 21 and 45 from the MCAS Administration Building to the Michigan Township Trustee's office
• Moving Precinct 17 from Edgewood School to the American Legion
• Moving Precinct 1 from Mullen School to the Michigan City Senior Center
The committee is still seeking another site for Precincts 22 and 23, located inside Nieman School during the primaries. The group had considered the Martin Luther King Youth Center, but the building may not be up to code, Poff said.
The recommendations follow a La Porte County Board of Commissioners' resolution in May that called for the board to seek alternative polling places, a request made in response to a low primary turnout. The MCAS Board has also called for moving polling places out of its facilities.
During public comment, several Michigan City residents did not mince words about their feelings regarding the use of MCAS buildings.
Chief among the complaints was the police presence at polling sites. Rodney McCormick said the officers posted outside the buildings serve as a deterrent to voters, especially those from predominantly black neighborhoods.
"I've seen this happen on TV, back in 1963, in Montgomery, Alabama, and other places," he said. "This is Michigan City, in 2019, and this is going on."
McCormick also said he believes the Election Board is not representing residents of Michigan City, and officials from outside the city shouldn't be making decisions about city elections.
Commissioner Richard Mrozinski defended using MCAS facilities as polling locations, saying voters do not have any contact with students. The police presence was likely necessary to prevent voter harassment or school disruption, he added.
Mrozinski also pushed back against McCormick's claims that county leaders don't have Michigan City voters' interests in mind when determining polling sites.
"When people want to use their personal vendetta against a mayor and try to throw the race card in on you guys and the commissioners for doing a good job setting up the polling places, it's out of bounds," he told the board. "It's uncalled for."
The Election Board itself was split on the idea of uprooting the current polling locations.
By moving the polling sites in the middle of an election cycle, the county will have to spend a significant amount of money to mail out reminders and other materials to affected voters, La Porte County Clerk and Election Board member Kathy Chroback said.
"I'm not against moving them, but not in the middle of an election," she said.
Board member Andrew Voeltz is also apprehensive about making the change before the general election, but given the MCAS administration's opposition to the current polling sites, he ultimately was in favor of the move.
Poff also expressed support for removing the polls from schools.
"I understand that, ideally, this wouldn't happen in the middle of an election, but I think we have some pretty significant problems and some pretty founded concerns," she said.
The Election Board will further evaluate the viability of the suggested alternative sites and present their findings to the Board of Commissioners, which must ultimately decide whether or not to relocate polls.