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Restraining order on Lake County precinct consolidation plan extended

IndianAttorney General Greg Zoeller | Supplied

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller | Supplied

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Updated: September 13, 2014 6:09AM



CROWN POINT — A temporary restraining order preventing the Lake County Election Board from consolidating precincts with less than 500 voters, as mandated by Senate Bill 385, has been extended until Monday.

After hearing more than two hours of testimony on Friday, Judge George Paras, from the Lake County Circuit Court Civil Division, gave the sides 10 days to prepare written arguments to submit to the court.

Clay Patton, attorney for Lake County Democratic Central Committee Party chairman John Buncich and seven other plaintiffs, precinct committee people whose elected positions stand to be eliminated in the consolidation, argued the law is special legislation that flies in the face of the Indiana Constitution.

The measure, approved by the Republican-led state Legislature, calls for Lake County only to eliminate precincts with less than 500 active voters by convening a small precinct committee meeting to come up with a consolidation plan. That plan is then to be outlined in a resolution and was to be approved by the election board by noon Aug. 1.

Patton said 29 of Indiana’s 92 counties, including Lake County, have 33 percent or more of their precincts with less than 500 active voters. He said the need to consolidate to save money is one that is not specific to Lake County.

“There’s nothing unique about Lake County that requires this special legislation,” Patton said. “We are not just saying it is unlawful. We are saying it is unconstitutional.”

Attorneys for Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, a defendant in the case, argued Buncich and his fellow plaintiffs put the cart before the horse in pursuing the lawsuit and injunction.

Jefferson Garn with the AG’s office said the law calls for the county to convene the small precinct committee to review the county’s precincts and present a plan. He said the county is not required to consolidate the precincts, only to review and discuss the plan and it is not clear what role the attorney general will play.

“His role in enforcing the law is unclear to us,” Garn said.

The Lake County election board has not yet voted on the opportunity to address the small precinct committee plan. He said the place to address concerns and have the public discussion about the precinct consolidation should take place before the election board.

“This lawsuit is very premature to consolidate,” Garn said.

Paras questioned whether the state was unsure if the law was even enforceable.

“Is it the state’s position the Legislature passed legislation that is meaningless,” Paras asked.

The sides have until Monday to submit their arguments in writing to the judge.



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