Here’s What We DON’T Know About That Sketchy Indiana ‘Voter Fraud’ Probe

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Ever since Indiana State Police raided a voter registration office in Indiana and effectively shut down a voter registration drive aimed at getting African-American voters to the polls, there have been a lot of unanswered questions.

Among the biggest: What actually initiated the state police investigation? What was the motivation? What happens to the thousands of legitimate registration forms submitted through the voter registration drive under investigation?

Here’s what we know.

On Oct. 4, the Indiana State Police executed a search warrant and raided the Indiana Voter Registration Project’s office. They took phones, paperwork and computers as evidence in their investigation into alleged voter fraud.

The raid and subsequent statements about the case by the state police have received a lot of media coverage in Indiana, and nationally. “State Police raid Indy office in growing voter fraud case” read the headline in the state’s largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star. Another one from the Star: “Top Indiana election official alleges more voter fraud.” The case has also been followed by the Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times and The New Republic.

Exactly what sparked that initial raid, however, is still murky. The LA Times reported the investigation had been “prompted by a tip” and that a Hendricks County Clerk had reported 10 suspicious voter registrations that had “signatures on some forms” that “did not match images in a county database.”

The New Republic reported at the end of September that Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson had sent a message to state election officials that “unfortunately, it has recently come to my attention that nefarious actors are operating here in Indiana.”

Lawson also cited 10 voter registration forms she believed were fraudulently filled out and turned in by the Indiana Voter Registration Project, a group that focused on African-American voter registration and was under the umbrella of the D.C.-based group Patriot Majority. But, it was is unclear if she was referring to the same 10 that the Hendricks County clerk was referring to.

To be clear, under Indiana law, canvassers have to turn in all forms – even ones that are partially filled our or are suspect. Patriot Majority spokesman Bill Buck explained to TPM that the protocol is for someone from the voter registration drive to flag the forms in question to a local election official. It’s unclear if the 10 questionable voting forms referred to by Lawson were also flagged by the Indiana Voter Registration Project.

On Oct. 6, Indiana State Police announced that they were going to expand their investigation from nine to 57 counties in the state. A local NBC affiliate reported that officials believed the number of voter registration forms that could have errors “could number in the hundreds.”

There was no evidence given or further explanation into what the forms in question included.

Buck told TPM their group has little information about how widespread alleged errors are or even what kinds of errors investigators were looking into. Patriot Majority has also been arguing that Indiana’s voter rolls contain inaccuracies in themselves that may help to explain why some of the voter registration forms they turned in did not match up with the state records.

“Hundreds of thousands of the Indiana Voter File records are inaccurate, duplicative, outdated, erroneous, invalid, inconsistent, and/or clearly the product of poor data management by Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson,” Patriot Majority said in a statement this week.

Intensifying the tensions even more, Indiana’s top cop Doug Carter went on WRTV in Indiana last week and said “there’s voter fraud and voter forgery in every state of America,” but he wouldn’t reveal what evidence he had to make such a claim.

“Carter refused to provide details about how many instances of voter fraud police have found, or the exact nature of the fraud — whether investigators found, for example, cases of people registering to vote multiple times or whether those ineligible to vote tried to register,” the LA Times wrote.

That has worried voting rights advocates who say a state police investigation shortly before an election could have chilling effects on voting as well as perpetuating a false belief that voter fraud is widespread. It is not. Studies have found actual instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare.

“I don’t want to allow the specter of fraud to be so overblown that it justifies policies that are a disproportionate response and disenfranchise voters needlessly,” said Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program

In response to the media storm and very public battle over the case, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry asked Wednesday that the Indiana State Police stop talking about the investigation, which he argued could be jeopardized by the widespread discussions of “voter fraud” that were being tossed around.

The biggest question remaining, however, is what will happen to the 45,000 individuals the Indiana Voting Project registered.

Perez argued that anyone who registered to vote should still go to their polling place and vote. If they aren’t on the rolls, they should fill out a provisional ballot, but again, the fear of not actually being registered could be a deterrent for voters and something that advocates want to avoid.

Before the Indiana State Police stopped commenting on the investigation Wednesday, Dave Bursten, the chief public information officer for Indiana State Police told Think Progress that what happens to each of the registrants “will be up to each prosecutor to review the completed investigation and take whatever action they, as the local prosecuting authority, deem appropriate.”

“Investigations of this nature are complicated and can take an extended period of time to complete,” he added.

In other words, no one really knows.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren Fox is a reporter at Talking Points Memo.

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