Indiana election official clarifies registration fraud probe
Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson told The Associated Press she wanted Indiana State Police to investigate to ensure there was no widespread fraud after her office found a heavier than usual number of changes to voter registration forms this election cycle. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)
Brian Slodysko, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, October 19, 2016 6:39PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS -- A day after warning of potential widespread voting fraud, Indiana's secretary of state acknowledged Wednesday that many of the thousands of altered registration forms she flagged might just be residents rushing to correct their names or birth dates ahead of the election.
Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson told The Associated Press she wanted Indiana State Police to investigate to ensure there was no widespread fraud after her office found a heavier than usual number of changes to voter registration forms this election cycle.
"It's very possible that because of heightened activity this year that many of those changes are changes that the individual made," Lawson told the AP. "... That should give Indiana voters the comfort that we are vigilant and we are protecting their rights and the elections here are not rigged."
Indiana is the home state of Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, and also has contentious races for governor and U.S. Senate on the ballot.
State police reassured residents in a statement Wednesday that the system Indiana uses for voter registration "has not been compromised" but said the records Lawson turned over could serve as evidence of forgery in a separate voter fraud investigation it is pursuing. That investigation spans 56 counties and focuses on Patriot Majority USA, a Washington, D.C.-based voter mobilization group with ties to the Democratic Party that says it's being targeted for political reasons.
Scrutiny of state voting systems across the U.S. has been heightened ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly said the election could be "rigged." Pence hasn't gone that far but has urged supporters to carefully watch polling stations to guard against irregularities.
"Voter fraud cannot be tolerated by anyone in this nation," Pence said during a recent campaign stop this week in Ohio. "So I encourage you, demand that our public officials are upholding the integrity of the vote."
The secretary of state's office has refused to reveal how many individual voter registrations it has flagged for state police, saying only that the number is in the thousands. Lawson says her office conducted a review of the state voter system after receiving phone calls from an unspecified number of concerned citizens who were unable to access, or found inaccuracies in their online voter information.
"We stated that there were thousands of changes and we are not going to make any assumptions that they are all legitimate or all fraudulent," Lawson said.
But other state elections officials said voter registration changes are not only routine but common.
County clerks around the state, who are responsible for entering voter data in the state's system, could make a data entry error while processing a crush of registrations. Or someone may be registered as Robert but search for their registration online using the nickname Bob, said Angie Nussmeyer, a co-director of the election division of Lawson's office.
A public records request filed by the AP shows Nussmeyer's Republican counterpart in the elections division, Brad King, was looped in on emails from Lawson's office and state police about the initial investigation in September, as was Pence aide Shelly Triol. Nussmeyer, however, says she was not.
Democrats say this is evidence that the probe is partisan in nature.
Julia Vaughn, policy director for the nonpartisan government watchdog group Common Cause Indiana said that before Lawson makes allegations of possible fraud her office "should make sure the voter file records haven't been altered through software snafus or human errors made by people in county or state agencies."
"There is almost no history of this kind of fraud here so her response helps to fuel irrational claims by Donald Trump and others that the election will be stolen through voter fraud," Vaughn said
A spokeswoman for the FBI's office in Indianapolis, Wendy Osborne, said that the agency was aware of the questions raised regarding voter registrations in the state. But speaking Wednesday afternoon, she added that state authorities had not asked for assistance in investigating the matter.
Public documents explain that the FBI can participate in investigations into voter registration fraud, or whenever ballots that list candidates for president or for Congress are an issue. Before elections, FBI offices nationwide also designate agents to serve as liaisons with local law enforcement and state election officials should federal help be needed.
Associated Press writers Michael Tarm in Chicago and Tom Davies in Indianapolis contributed to this report.