Many Indiana voters are enjoying the state's surprising tossup status in the presidential election. The last time a Republican lost Indiana was 44 years ago, when Lyndon Johnson won the Hoosier state. But this year is different; recent polls suggest Barack Obama is at least even with or leading John McCain in Indiana.
But along with this newfound battleground status comes increased attention to possible voting irregularities, especially in the northwest corner of the state. Lake County, Ind., shares a border with Chicago and an equally questionable history in elections.
In Crown Point, Ind., the place for coffee these days is The Conservative Cafe. It's a sandwich shop, coffee shop, and, says Manager Russ Volk, it's "the opposite of Starbucks."
"We've got Fox News on all the time," Volk says. "Our T-shirts are conservative logos, and we have a 'zip it, hippie' T-shirt, which you'd never see at Starbucks."
The Conservative Cafe is in the Republican-leaning part of Lake County — which happens to be about the only county in Indiana that consistently votes Democratic.
Volk says Republicans here view their Democratic neighbors to the north in cities like Gary, Hammond and East Chicago a little suspiciously when it comes to elections. Delayed vote totals in the May Democratic primary made headlines across the country. Allegations of vote fraud and Democratic machine-style tactics, similar to those across the border in Chicago, are common.
There already have been widespread problems with new voter registrations, according to Bruce Lambka, a Republican attorney for the Lake County Board of Elections.
"Some of the registrations came in under obviously fictitious names," Lambka says. One example he gives is a newly registered voter named "Jimmy Johns." His address was the sandwich shop.
"There are some that come in under the name of someone who was deceased," Lambka continues. "There are others that come in where the same person has obviously signed more than one registration."
Lambka says out of more than 20,000 new voter registrations, the Elections Board identified more than 3,000 that appeared flawed. The board checked and removed most of those.
He's confident requiring photo IDs at the polls will help ensure that those casting ballots are legally registered.
But the concerns of Lake County Republicans don't stop there. The GOP sued to stop early voting in satellite locations in the northern Lake County cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, arguing that the way Democrats approved the sites violated state law. The lawsuit also raises concerns about possible vote fraud.
"I think that a 5-year-old kid that flunked kindergarten can figure this whole thing out," says Rudy Clay, mayor of Gary and chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party. He says the GOP is trying to suppress African-American votes.
"In Gary, Ind., on the north end, you're talking almost 97 percent of these people are going to vote for Barack Obama. [The Republicans] know that, and they're trying to stop it and slow it down so the people won't vote on this end."
With the chance to make history in electing a black president, turnout in this area of Lake County may shatter records. That could more than help offset Republican turnout in rural parts of central and southern Indiana, giving Obama a legitimate chance of turning this once reliably red state blue.
A special judge appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that early voting at the satellite sites in Gary, East Chicago and Hammond is legal and above-board, and should continue. The Republicans appealed, but on Friday, the Indiana Supreme Court turned down the GOP's request for an emergency hearing. An appeals court will hear the case later this week.