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Gary, Ind., Calls It A Night (Almost)

By Peter Slevin
CROWN POINT, Ind. -- It took half the night, but the counting is nearly done in Lake County, where a long delay in reporting results and a sudden surge for Sen. Barack Obama set tongues wagging and forced local law enforcement figures to defend the protracted vote-counting process.

Shortly after midnight, Lake County elections officials released figures that showed Obama beating Sen. Hillary Clinton here by 11 percentage points, enough to prune Clinton's statewide lead to about 22,000 votes but not enough to overtake her with 99 percent of Indiana's votes now counted.

Elections officials, who took heat on national television for their initial decision to hold all results until absentee and early-voting ballots had been counted, said that roughly 7,000 ballots remained uncounted from turnout that approached 50 percent.

They estimated that a final tally would be available by about 2 a.m. central time.

Lake County Prosecuting Attorney Bernard Carter said the count was "on the up and up and every ballot is being counted."

"There is nothing going on that I would say is improper or not correct," said Carter, an elected official who said he did not endorse Clinton or Obama. Describing his role in an election headquarters still humming with activity after 1 a.m. CST, Carter said in an interview that he is here "to witness and to know first hand what occurred."

Carter said by way of explanation that elections officials were dealing for the first time with early voting. They decided to try to count 11,000 early ballots before releasing any figures, rather than pursuing the usual piecemeal approach.

As a result, Lake County showed a goose egg on election maps as Clinton built a statewide lead.

"That's a decision they made," Carter said. "I had no control over that."

When the Lake County results began to be reported, Obama rolled up big margins in Gary, home to a heavy concentration of black voters who backed the senator from nearby Chicago. Clinton's lead slipped to four percent, then three percent, then two.

Her edge gradually stabilized as more results were reported from a mix of suburban and rural Lake County precincts where the votes were more evenly split.

Sheriff Roy Dominguez, a Clinton supporter, held forth at midnight in the first floor elections headquarters, declaring himself confident that "there is no reason to believe there's anything improper going on."

Mindful of the sudden suspicion in a region whose political history is particularly pungent, Dominguez said of the county workers and volunteers, "They didn't anticipate this type of night."

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 7, 2008; 2:47 AM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Hillary Rodham Clinton , Primaries  
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