Why Did Indiana State Police Raid A Voter Registration Group’s Office?

AP

In Indiana, an investigation into alleged voter registration fraud intensified rapidly Tuesday when state police reportedly raided the Indianapolis office of a voter registration group and confiscated computers, personal cell phones and paperwork, according to a report from the Intercept.

The Intercept reported that workers at the site told them that state police stopped one person from recording the incident and that the group’s lawyer said he was unable to enter the building.

State police are investigating the Indiana Voter Registration Project’s efforts in nine counties after claims that the group fraudulently registered voters, according to the Indianapolis Star. Indiana’s Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who was a key sponsor of Indiana’s 2005 voter ID law that went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was upheld– announced the investigation in September.

According to the Intercept, Lawson alleged that “nefarious actors are operating here in Indiana.” The Intercept also wrote that Lawson had cited 10 individual voter registration forms as fraudulent. But, according to the Intercept, the state of Indiana doesn’t allow voter registration forms – even those the group conducting the voter registration drive worries may be inaccurate– to be discarded without being looked over by the state.

Patriot Majority is the D.C.-based group managing the voter registration drive in Indiana. Its leader, Craig Varoga, told the Intercept that it is not unusual that they would turn in questionable forms and flag them to election officials.

What is unusual, election law experts says, is for police to raid a voter registration office, and the proximity of the raid to the election, seemed troubling.

Daniel Tokaji, an elections law professor at Ohio State University, said he was worried that such a raid – if it happened in the manner described in news reports– could have a chilling effect on other voter registration drives across the country just a month ahead of the election.

“My concern is it is going to intimidate people who are registering people to vote,” Tokaji said.

Tokaji argued that while limiting early voting and requiring photo ID all had negative affects on voter turnout, launching an investigation like the one in Indiana – which has essentially stopped the group from registering voters– represented a new level of potential voter suppression.

“There is nothing that affects turnout on Election Day more than voter registration,” Tokaji said. “Voting registration is really the big thing. If you make it more difficult to register, you will decrease the number of people who vote. … These sorts of law enforcement activities are extremely worrisome.”

Social science research has repeatedly show that instances of voter fraud are extremely rare and Tokaji reiterated that a statewide voter fraud operation seemed to be out of the range of possibility especially because state police told the Intercept that they were looking into the incident because “we found instances of totally fictitious information.”

Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California Irvine and founder of Election Law Blog, reiterated that it may be too early to tell if some of the forms actually contained fraudulent information. Regardless, he pointed out that a fake person would never show up .
“It is important to distinguish the very real problem of voter registration fraud…from the question of whether it would impact the outcome of the election,” Hasen said. “Lumping all claims of fraud into one is very convenient but turns out to be quite misleading.”

Tokaji agreed that registering fake voters would not lead to voter fraud.

“So far as I know Micky Mouse hasn’t showed up yet. The risk of this turning into actual voter fraud, is infinitesimally small,” Tokaji said. “If the facts here are true, it sounds like this is a concerted effort to shut down a group that is trying to register actual live voters who will actually vote.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren Fox is a reporter at Talking Points Memo.
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