State and federal agencies have been called to investigate potential attempts at voter fraud and accusations of voter suppression in Indiana, and the voting rights of tens of thousands of Hoosiers could hang in the balance.
The controversy surrounds voter registration efforts by a group called the Indiana Voter Registration Project, ever-growing accusations of fraudulent activity, a major Indiana State Police investigation, allegations of attempted racially targeted mass disenfranchisement by the State of Indiana, and a plea for the United States Department of Justice to intervene.
The months-long saga began with an Indiana State Police investigation launched in late August, during which ISP detectives confirmed “several instances” of fraudulent voter registration forms — with missing, incomplete or incorrect information — submitted to voting officials in Hendricks and Marion counties by the Indiana Voter Registration Project, which has registered more than 45,000 (mostly Black) voters in Indiana since May. The investigation prompted Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson to issue a warning to voters on Sept. 15 to be on “high alert” to potential fraud.
The statement from Lawson’s office said: “A group by the name of the Indiana Voter Registration Project has turned in forged voter registration applications. The group was altering already registered voter’s (sic) information. The group would change the voters (sic) address to an address not associated with the voter without the voter’s knowledge.”
Patriot Majority USA, which runs the Indiana Voter Registration Project, decried Lawson’s accusations made in the statement as “defamatory and partisan.”
Then, on Oct. 3, Patriot Majority USA filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in Washington, D.C., regarding ISP First Sgt. William Stoney Vann, who is currently campaigning for sheriff of Johnson County. Stoney Vann has been accused of “deliberately obstructing” the Project’s registration efforts.
Patriot Majority President Craig Varoga accused Stoney Vann of “literally using his badge and gun to go door-to-door, going to the homes of primarily African-Americans and trying to intimidate them from engaging in the political process.”
The day after that complaint was filed, ISP expanded the investigation to include nine Indiana counties and executed a search warrant at the Indiana Voter Registration Project office located at 2425 N. Meridian St.
ISP didn’t release specific details about the search warrant, and the document will be sealed until 30 days after it was issued, ISP spokesman Capt. Dave Bursten said.
Varoga said investigators seized at least 259 voter registrations, but Bursten said investigators only made copies and left the originals with the registration office staff.
In a complaint filed Oct. 6 with the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Patriot Majority USA requested a federal investigation into tactics reportedly used during the raid.
“In conducting their partisan raid, these so-called investigators violated numerous legal standards,” a statement from Varoga said.
The alleged infractions include denying staff the opportunity to contact an attorney and denying the Project’s attorney access to the office and staff.
In the wake of the raid, Varoga has expressed concern about what will become of the Project’s 45,000-plus registrations, but a statement from Bursten says that, in accordance with state law, all voter registration applications would be “processed according to established policies.”
Patriot Majority USA has also launched a national advertising campaign linking the entire investigation back to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is the Republican vice presidential candidate.
The Recorder reached out to the DOJ for details about whether the department would be pursuing an investigation into Patriot Majority USA’s complaint and, if so, what that investigation would entail. A spokesman said the department “will decline to comment.”
The investigation took a different turn when, on Oct. 18, Lawson’s office announced that many Hoosier voters had been contacting the Secretary of State’s office after being unable to confirm their voter registration online. Lawson said she found “thousands” of voters’ dates of birth and first names had been changed “on paper forms, at the BMV and online.”
“At this time, my office is not sure why these records were changed, but we have evaluated the Statewide Voter Registration System and have found no indication it has been compromised,” the office said.
Valerie Warycha, a spokeswoman for Lawson’s office, told the Recorder that, to her knowledge, this type of issue had not been seen before. Warycha said they contacted ISP for further investigation.
The Recorder reached out to ISP for details about the latest arm of the investigation and whether it could be related to the ongoing case involving the Indiana Voter Registration Project. The Recorder did not receive a response, but Bursten told the Associated Press, “the changing of a first name and/or date of birth is consistent with what we are seeing on a number of voter registration applications submitted by” the Indiana Voter Registration Project.
A statement issued the afternoon of Oct. 19 from ISP Supt. Doug Carter confirmed that ISP investigators are looking into possible connections between the two cases.
“Given the fact that the Statewide Voter Registration System has not been compromised, we believe the reports … may serve as evidence of forgery by representatives associated with the Indiana Voter Registration Project,” Carter’s statement said.
Timeline of the investigation
Late August: Indiana State Police begin investigation in Hendricks, Marion counties.
Sept. 15: Lawson issues a statement urging voters to be on “high alert” and check their voter registrations for accuracy.
Oct. 3: Patriot Majority USA files complaint with U.S. Office of Special Counsel in Washington, D.C., regarding ISP First Sgt. William Stoney Vann.
Oct. 4: ISP investigation expands to nine total counties; search warrant served at Indiana Voter Registration Project office located at 2425 N. Meridian St.
Oct. 6: ISP investigation expands to 56 counties; Patriot Majority USA asks DOJ to launch investigation.
Oct. 15: ISP issues statement calling Patriot Majority USA allegations “completely false.”
Oct. 18: Lawson issues statement saying “thousands” of voter registration records on paper forms, at the BMV and online had been changed, and voter fraud was suspected. The case was turned over to ISP.
Oct. 19: ISP Supt. Doug Carter issues a statement saying the case announced on Oct. 18 may be related to the existing Indiana Voter Registration Project case.
Are you registered?
All Indiana voters are encouraged to check their registration as soon as possible. Visit Indianavoters.com to find confirmation of your eligibility to vote.
Voters who cast a ballot in May who can no longer find their registration should call their county’s election office.
All voters should consider voting early to ensure they will not encounter issues on Election Day.
Voters with questions can call the Hoosier Voter Hotline at (866)-IN-1-VOTE.