State police expand probe: Suspicious registrations not yet found locally

Tribune staff reports

Local election officials are advising Jackson County residents to check their voter registration information after investigators announced fraudulent voter applications may have been filed in 56 counties, including Jackson.

The Indiana State Police and the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office launched an investigation in August into allegations an Indianapolis-based voter registration organization, Indiana Voter Registration Project, filed at least 10 fraudulent voter registrations in Hendricks and Marion counties.

After serving a search warrant at the business Tuesday, detectives announced they were expanding the investigation to include Hancock, Allen, Delaware, Hamilton, Johnson, Lake and Madison counties. On Thursday, that investigation was expanded to 56 counties, including Jackson.

Investigators said they believe the total potentially fraudulent registrations could number in the hundreds, according to an Indiana State Police news release issued Tuesday. The fraudulent registration information includes combinations of correct names with fake addresses, fake names with real addresses and fake birth dates, police said.

The announcement came about an hour after Patriot Majority USA, a group that runs the Indiana Voter Registration Project, said it asked the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to look into whether the investigation is an attempt to suppress black votes, according to The Associated Press.

Capt. Dave Bursten, state police spokesman, denied any attempt to suppress votes, saying the investigation has followed proper procedures.

Jackson County Clerk Amanda Lowery said the local election office has not been contacted by the state police or notified of any issues by the Indiana Election Division.

“My first knowledge of Jackson County being included in the investigation came when I saw a list posted last night on Facebook,” she said Friday.

Counties have been instructed to send copies of any suspicious voter registration applications to the Indiana State Police for review.

But Lowery said Friday she has not had to do so yet.

Due to the increase in voter registrations this election cycle because of the presidential race, Lowery said her office has been diligent in making sure applications are accurate.

“We make personal contact with potential voters if any information on their application is questionable, such as missing information or addresses we are unable to locate, and work with them to complete the application before processing it,” she said.

Local and state election officials are encouraging voters to visit to verify their information is correct before casting ballots this fall.

When checking voter registration online, Lowery said it may not come up if a person has been registered for years.

“That doesn’t mean they’re not registered, just that their birth date needs to be updated,” she said. “When counties converted to the statewide registration system, some longtime registered voters got pulled into the system with a random birth year.”

The month and day will be correct, but the year will be something nonsensical, she added.

“1800 is a popular year that we see often,” she said. “The majority of calls we have received this morning have been because of this, and we just update their birthday year when they call. We also update on Election Day if poll workers notice a crazy birthday.”

The Indiana Voter Registration Project often canvasses Hoosier neighborhoods or visits fairs and festivals to register voters, officials said. The group is accused of altering information for voters who were already registered, according to a news release from the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office. No arrests have been made, Indiana State Police Sgt. John Perrine said.

Investigators made copies of thousands of documents housed at the Indiana Voter Registration Project headquarters in downtown Indianapolis on Tuesday, though all original documents were left to protect the election process, police said. All court documents pertaining to the investigation have been sealed for the next 30 days.

Perrine said it’s too early to tell the motive behind the alleged filing of fake registration forms, though investigators suspect employees of the Indiana Voter Registration Project might have been trying to meet a quota of applications rather than trying to influence the election.

State police said while they normally don’t provide updates on an active investigation, it released information on this case because of the deadline.

At a glance

Local and state election officials are encouraging voters to visit to verify their information is correct before casting ballots this fall.

Early voting is slated to begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Jackson County Courthouse in Brownstown.

Tuesday also is the last day people can register to vote for the Nov. 8 election. Applications must be received by the clerk’s office or postmarked Tuesday.

Register to vote:

Visit or call the voter registration office at 812-358-6120.

In order to be eligible to register to vote, you must:

  • Be a citizen of the United States
  • Be at least 18 years old on the day of the next general, municipal or special election
  • Have lived in your precinct for at least 30 days before the next general, municipal or special election (except for certain military voters)
  • Not currently be imprisoned after being convicted of a crime

In order to register online, you also must possess a current and valid Indiana driver’s license or Indiana state identification card.