Election complaint spotlights need for training on who is authorized to handle machines

CHICAGO — The Lake County Election Board Saturday said they will use complaints filed against a Dyer man serving as a deputy election commissioner in November stemming from his actions on Election Day as a teachable moment for election workers.

Five election workers filed complaints in January against Kyle Rizzo, whom they alleged failed to display credentials other than an identification badge before walking up to voting machines and appearing to touch buttons in multiple polling places. After hearing testimony and discussing the matter at length, officials moved to dismiss the complaints and improve training.

Maren Woodlock of Dyer in her testimony before the board said Rizzo entered Protsman Elementary School where she was an inspector for Precinct 10 twice on election day and he did not present any credentials she recognized. The first time he came in and had a general conversation then left.

Typical poll watcher credentials or those issued for individual precincts have two parts. The polling place keeps one part for election records and the individual uses the other part as the credential to access the poll.

Woodlock said at the time poll workers were aware Rizzo was chairman of the Dyer Republican Committee. She said he returned a couple hours later with lunch for his son, who was working at the polling place as an inspector for Precinct 9.

As he proceeded to walk to the back of the room to the Precinct 9 voting machines he started pushing buttons on the voting machines, Woodlock testified.

“I said you are not allowed to touch the machines,” Woodlock said, adding he said he was the chair and had the right to do it. She said he touched all the machines in Precinct 9 and 10. As he walked toward the male inspector standing in front of the Precinct 5, he instead exited the building, she testified.

Woodlock testified he then called the elections office and spoke first to LeAnn Angerman, the Republican deputy director, and Michelle Fajman, the Democratic director, about the situation. She said she was told to document what occurred.

“We are taught in training only two people can touch a machine — an inspector or judge. Other than that nobody else can touch it,” Woodlock said.

Karren Kukral, who worked as a judge in Precinct 8 at Faith Reformed Church in Dyer, recounted a similar experience in her testimony.

“When he came into my precinct, he started to walk toward the voting booths and I stopped him and said you are not allowed back there. He said he had the highest credentials and showed me his lanyard,” Kukral said.

“He just ignored my warning and went back behind the booths. I did not observe him touching anything,” Kukral said.

Robert Woodlock, the Precinct 5 inspector, echoed his wife’s testimony. Woodlock said he could see her trailing Rizzo as he went by the machines. He said it appeared Rizzo was trying to push the red button on the voting machine to run a tally, but could not tell for certain if any buttons had been pushed.

Fajman said credentials are provided for deputy election commissioners because those individuals are extensions of the five-member election board and have the ability to enter all polling places as needed. The credential is on the front page of the three-ring binder the deputy election commissioner carries throughout the day.

Rizzo testified his actions that day were being misinterpreted and misunderstood. He testified he went to multiple polling places that day to check in on poll workers, see if there were any problems and provide assistance to rectify any problems. Rizzo testified that none of the individuals who filed complaints had asked to see his credentials.

“I was asked to be a deputy election commissioner. I had been a judge the five years previous. I enjoyed being a judge,” Rizzo said.

When he was a judge, he would routinely perform tallies to make sure all the machines were being used to make sure the numbers matched, but deputy election commissioners aren’t authorized to perform tallies. He went to other locations throughout the day, but apparently, word began to spread. Rizzo testified he did what he did that day “because I thought I could.” He testified he did not read anything in the training that said he could not.

Later that day when he arrived at Rise Church, Rizzo testified he was yelled at by someone who told him he was not going to touch any machines. He said he was embarrassed. He testified he spoke to Angerman and told her, “Someone is calling all the precincts making it very difficult for me saying hello.”

“It was really disappointing to get yelled at. I was just upset,” Rizzo testified.

Board member Robert Tribble, a Democrat, questioned whether deputy election commissioners just randomly got out to check machines and run tallies on their own or if they go out when they are sent to look into a problem.

“Usually we are dispatching them because there is a problem. There is nothing that says they can’t go to different locations. There is nothing that stops them from going anywhere. Usually, we are dispatching them,” Fajman said.

Tribble said more training should be done so commissioners know to introduce themselves and establish communication with inspectors and judges so they know why they are there.

“This does seem to be a significant issue of confusion. He thought he was showing credentials… There was a disconnect. Also, I didn’t hear any complainants here ask to be physically shown credentials,” he said.

Board member and County Clerk Mike Brown, a Democrat, said there has to be better communication.

“Both sides felt like they were right,” Brown said.

He said his concern is with the amount of leeway the board’s resolution gives to deputy election commissioners. Brown said policy should be clearer about what is and isn’t expected of them.