POLITICS
09/28/2016 03:23 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

Indiana Officials Attack Voter Registration Drive After Finding 10 Bad Forms

Authorities are pointing the finger at a project funded by liberals.

The Indiana state government took the unusual step earlier this month of warning all voters to “remain on high alert” after it said it uncovered a possible voter fraud scheme.

The state accused a group called the Indiana Voter Registration Project of turning in 10 forged forms that changed a voter’s address without the voter’s knowledge. The group emphatically denies the allegation.

“I encourage all Hoosiers to be vigilant at this time and to monitor their voter registrations until the close of the voter registration deadline,” Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R) said in a Sept. 15 press release. She urged voters to double-check their registration information at Indianavoters.com.

A political consultant with Patriot Majority, the liberal nonprofit that funded the registration project, said Lawson’s fraud claims are bogus. 

“They have used words like ‘fraud’ and ‘forgery’ but then when they actually describe the forms it seems to be inaccuracies,” Craig Varoga said, adding that he believes officials uncovered a few innocent mistakes.

Varoga said the registration project had collected nearly 40,000 applications. All those applications will still be processed by county clerks, according to a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office. 

The Indiana State Police have been investigating the matter. State police spokesman Dave Bursten told HuffPost that he didn’t know whether the 10 applications had been forged, but nobody has been charged with a crime. He said the police had interviewed people who might have shown up in November and found they were no longer registered to vote at their usual voting site.

“People said, ‘I didn’t fill this out,’” Bursten said. 

The Indiana allegations come amid some mild national hysteria over voter fraud, fueled partly by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s claims that the November election will be “rigged” somehow. (Voter impersonation fraud is extremely rare.) Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is Trump’s vice presidential running mate.

Wendy Weiser, a voting rights expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, said Lawson’s decision to issue a blanket warning based on a few accusations is highly unusual. 

“Whether or not it is warranted to criticize a particular group that engaged in voter registration, I don’t know,” Weiser said. “Typically those criticisms end up not holding water.”

Still, Weiser said it’s a good idea for voters to make sure their registration is up to date, since 1 in 8 registrations nationally is invalid or inaccurate, according to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts. One problem is that people don’t realize that moving even within a state may require them to re-register. 

“My big takeaway from this is this makes a very strong and ongoing case for modernizing voter registration,” Weiser said. The Brennan Center favors automatic registration of all eligible voters when they interact with their local department of motor vehicles.

Patriot Majority has previously funded 11 voter registration drives in various states and has never encountered such a strong negative reaction from the local government, according to Varoga. 

“We’ve never had an overtly hostile partisan reaction,” he said.

Varoga also complained that the Indiana State Police were “intimidating” the project’s canvassers by interviewing them at their homes.

“I could see how somebody that might be concerned that they may have committed a violation, knowingly or unknowingly, could perceive us talking to them as harassment,” Bursten said, adding that the police nevertheless had to investigate the problem.

An Indiana Voter Registration Project canvasser told the IndyStar that supervisors stressed that the voters themselves, not the canvassers, must fill out the registration forms ― which is also what the law requires.

CORRECTION: Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson was not appointed or nominated to her job by Gov. Mike Pence, as the sub-headline previously implied. She is a separately elected official.

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