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Many Indiana voters are enjoying the state's surprising tossup status in the presidential election. Recent polls suggest Barack Obama is at least even with or leading John McCain in Indiana. But along with this battleground status comes increased attention to possible voting irregularities, especially in the northwest corner of the state, Lake County, which shares a border with Chicago and an equally questionable history when it comes to elections. NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER: In Crown Point, Indiana, the place for coffee these days is the Conservative Cafe.
Mr. RUSS VOLK (Manager, Conservative Cafe): It's a sandwich shop, coffee shop, kind of the opposite of Starbucks.
SCHAPER: Russ Volk manages the Conservative Cafe.
Mr. VOLK: We've got Fox News on all the time. Our t-shirts are, you know, conservative logos, and we have a "Zip It, Hippy" T-shirt, which you'd never see at Starbucks.
SCHAPER: The Conservative Cafe with coffee served right is in the Republican-leaning part of Lake County, which happens to be about the only county in Indiana that consistently votes Democratic. And 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 around the country, and allegations of vote fraud and Democratic machine-style tactics similar to those across the border in Chicago are common.
Mr. VOLK: I think everyone should be concerned. It's pretty important. It brings up questions that you have to wonder about.
SCHAPER: Lake County's past election troubles even worries some liberals braving the Conservative Cafe. Tina Mijanovich (ph) is a teacher from nearby Hobart, Indiana.
Ms. TINA MIJANOVICH: I hope it doesn't come into play, you know. I think it's been going on forever, but I just hope not. I want to win fair and square.
SCHAPER: There already have been widespread problems with new voter registrations according to Bruce Lambka, a Republican attorney with the Lake County Board of Elections.
Mr. BRUCE LAMBKA (Republican Attorney, Lake County Board of Elections): Some of the registrations came in under obviously fictitious names.
SCHAPER: One example Lambka gives is a newly registered voter named Jimmy Johns with his address being the Sandwich Shop. And...
Mr. LAMBKA: There are some that come in under the name of someone who is deceased. There are others that come in where the same person has obviously signed more than one registration.
SCHAPER: Lambka says, out of the more than 20,000 new voter registrations, the elections board identified more than 3,000 that appeared flawed and checked and removed most of those. And he's confident requiring photo IDs should 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 again about possible vote fraud. Democrats call it a smoke screen.
Mayor RUDY CLAY (Gary, Indiana): I think that a five-year-old kid that flunked kindergarten can figure this whole thing out.
SCHAPER: Rudy Clay is the mayor of Gary and Lake County Democratic Party chairman. He says the GOP is really trying to suppress African-American votes.
Mayor CLAY: In Gary, Indiana, on the north end, you're talking almost 97 percent of these people are going to vote for Barack Obama. They know that, and they're trying to stop it and slow it down so that people won't vote on this end.
SCHAPER: With the chance to make history in electing a black president, turnout in this area of Lake County may shatter records. That could help more than offset Republican turnout in some rural parts of central and southern Indiana, giving Barack 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. 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. David Schaper, NPR News in Lake County, Indiana.
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