MERRILLVILLE –  There are greater implications than either Democrats or Republicans are talking about in terms of the elimination of a third of Lake County’s precincts.
 
Democrats are saying the biggest losers are the people in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, cities that represent the backbone of the party. Republicans say the reductions will result in the annual saving of $117,300 because fewer election workers will be hired. Republicans don’t say the cuts will weaken Democrats.
 
Each party is right. But neither party is talking about the biggest impact the cuts will have.
 
Hardest hit will be north county Democrats, who have pretty much controlled the direction of the party until now. The impact won’t be known until there is a vacancy in a county office that will be filled by one of the county precinct organizations. We only have to go back to the fall of 2017 to get a feel for the impact of filling vacancies.
 
Lake Democrats convened some 10 months ago to fill the vacancy created by the conviction of former Sheriff John Buncich. The precinct organization met to fill the remainder of Buncich’s term, which runs through 2018. County police officer Oscar Martinez won that caucus largely because of the support of Hispanic committeemen in East Chicago and that of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, who controls the Hammond precinct organization. Hammond at the time had 79 precincts and East Chicago had 31. McDermott was Martinez’s largest supporter and lined up most of the Hammond organization behind him.
 
Hammond today has 33 fewer committeemen than it did when Martinez was selected. East Chicago has 14 fewer precincts. That could have resulted in a 47-vote shift away from Martinez and resulted in the selection of then-Schererville Police Chief David Dowling as the sheriff.
 
Besides the cuts in Hammond and East Chicago, Gary lost 54 of its 105 precincts. Precincts with fewer than 600 registered voters were eliminated by Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican.
 
Countywide, 170 precincts – or 33% of the total, were eliminated. In Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, 47 percent of the precincts were eliminated. 
 
Rich James has been writing about politics and government for almost 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.