PI Original Josh Kalven Tuesday October 14th, 2008, 1:32pm

Indiana Update: Early Voting Officially Begins In Northern Lake Co. (UPDATED)

The dispute over early voting in Lake County, IN came to a head this morning, as Lake County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo ordered in-person absentee voting centers in Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago to open immediately. Around noon, two voting machines en route from ...

The dispute over early voting in Lake County, IN came to a head this morning, as Lake County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo ordered in-person absentee voting centers in Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago to open immediately.  Around noon, two voting machines en route from Crown Point (the county seat) arrived at the courthouse in Gary, where residents and local media outlets had already congregated in anticipation.  Just before 1 p.m., State Sen. Earline Rogers (right) cast the first vote.  The line of 20 to 30 waiting outside the clerk's office burst into applause when she emerged.

At the time Rogers turned in her ballot, election officials were reportedly setting up machines in Hammond and East Chicago as well.

Elected officials on hand in Gary, including Mayor Rudy Clay, expressed uncertainty regarding the temporary restraining order filed by the GOP to stop these early voting centers from opening.  The three cities are home to 40 percent of the county's population -- including a large number of minority and low-income residents -- and each is more than a 30 minutes drive from Crown Point, where the sole early voting center was located, as of this morning.  Superior Court Judge Calvin Hawkins had scheduled a hearing at 1 p.m. to take up the matter.   

"Stevie Wonder could see what's going on here," Clay said when asked about the Republicans' efforts to keep the additional early voting centers from opening.  "It's disenfranchisement."

UPDATE (5 pm): NBC 5's Dick Johnson just reported that Hawkins has decided to let the Indiana Supreme Court handle the case (they'll be the fourth court to touch the issue).  In the meantime, he will not to stop the early voting in Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago.

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