La PORTE — Following last week’s fiery – yet indecisive – La Porte County Election Board meeting, one county commissioner wants polls to be removed from Michigan City Area Schools buildings by month’s end.

During Wednesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Sheila Matias asked the Election Board to immediately forward a list of nine alternative voting locations for those currently placed inside school facilities.

Matias would like the commissioners to consider voting on the new polling spots during their next meeting on Sept. 18, she said.

Her request came less than a week after an election board meeting at which officials and the public clashed over whether the county should continue to use MCAS facilities during elections. La Porte County currently has nine Michigan City voting precincts inside local elementary schools, including Edgewood, Mullen and Niemann; as well as the Elston building and MCAS administration building.

Though Election Board member Amber Poff shared several possible alternative sites, the board did not vote to pass them along to the commissioners. Instead, the members decided to evaluate the feasibility of using the suggested alternatives and present their findings to the board of commissioners afterward.

During her remarks Wednesday, Matias mentioned that both the Board of Commissioners and MCAS administrators have sought to relocate school voting sites following May’s primary election. Several Michigan City residents have complained about the police officers posted as security at the school buildings during voting.

Matias was “distressed” when she saw the photos of a police K-9 assigned outside one of the buildings during the election. She had never seen animals deployed at the polls in her decades of voting in Michigan City, she said. 

The former MC mayor also pushed back on the statements Commissioner Richard Mrozinski made during the Election Board meeting. Mrozinski said the Michigan City Police Department likely assigned officers to the schools to prevent a disturbance or voter intimidation at the polls.

“Are you kidding me?” Matias responded Wednesday. “That is absolutely absurd and offensive. There has never been any disturbance at any polling place in Michigan City or La Porte County, to my knowledge.”

Despite the criticism, Mrozinski maintained his position, adding that the commissioners have no jurisdiction over how MCPD deploy its officers.

“Police departments govern that – we don’t,” he said.

The commissioner also mentioned he did not attend the May meeting at which the commissioners requested the Election Board find new locations for school polling locations.

During her statement, Matias also responded to the Election Board’s concern that relocating polls in the middle of an election cycle would confuse voters. The commissioner said that through social media, newspapers, radio and other outlets, affected voters could find out their new polling site by November. 

On top of addressing the school issue, Matias again brought up the possibility of moving early voting out of the two county courthouses. She said she believes the county’s use of these buildings serves as a barrier to many, as they lack handicap accessibility and require visitors to go through security.

“My 92-year-old mother or your 92-year-old mother shouldn’t have to shake out her purse and have it inspected by (courthouse security),” she said. “They have lots of better things to do than look at grandmas’ purses.”

Board President Vidya Kora spoke with Michigan City Public Library officials Wednesday about the possibility of hosting early voting, he said. But with renovations taking place at the building this fall, it will not be possible this year, Kora said.

The commissioner also reached out to La Porte County Public Library Director Fonda Owens, but had not reached her as of Wednesday, he said.

“Looking at the logistics, (moving early voting) may not happen this year, but we will continue the conversation and see if we can make it happen next year,” Kora said.

He also reiterated his support for voting by mail, suggesting the commissioners consider passing a resolution supporting such legislation from the state.

Also on Wednesday, the commissioners:

•  Approved an interlocal cooperation agreement with the city of La Porte to have the county Building Department handle the inspection and permitting work for the new La Porte Hospital facility, currently under construction downtown. According to Building Department attorney Doug Biege, the city has requested the county’s help with the inspection process, as its inspectors have more expertise. The city will pay a fee for each inspection, Biege said.

• Approved a request for NIPSCO to use the La Porte County Fairgrounds as an emergency staging ground. The property will provide the utility company with a large enough area to gather materials and vehicles from throughout the service region. The agreement should help crews restore power to customers faster, NIPSCO representatives said.

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