A progressive advocacy group is accusing Indiana Gov. and Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence of voter suppression after police launched an investigation into numerous cases of “voter fraud.”
In a series of ads that will appear in print, online and on the radio, Patriot Majority USA alleges Pence is suppressing Black voters in order to sway the election in his favor and has asked the Department of Justice to investigate.
An investigation began in late August. Last month a state police spokesman said “at least 10” applications appeared suspicious. On October 4 police raided the Indiana Voter Registration Project’s office in Indianapolis and seized cell phones and computers. (Reports originally stated that voter registration applications were also seized. However, David Bursten, a state police spokesman, said in a statement over the weekend, “When the search warrant was executed on October 4, copies were made of voter application forms and the originals were left with representatives of Indiana Voter Registration Project, a subsidiary of Patriot Majority USA.”)
What began as an investigation in nine counties has now expanded to 56 of the state’s 92 counties.
Bursten said over the weekend, “While the investigation is still on-going, I can tell you at this time there are more than 300 copies of voter application forms that fall within the categories of being fraudulent or forged.” He added that “it will be many more weeks before this investigation is concluded and submitted to various county prosecutors for their review and action as they deem appropriate.”
Craig Varoga, president of Patriot Majority USA, estimates that about 45,000 people, primarily Blacks, will not be able to vote if the investigators hold the seized applications. In the group’s ads, a man says, “Indiana state police recently shut down our state’s largest voter registration program. This police raid was under the leadership of Republican Governor Mike Pence. Now 45,000 citizens, almost all African Americans, could lose the right to vote.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit group that advocates for voting rights, called on Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson to make sure eligible voters whose applications may have been involved in the raid are still able to vote on November 8.
The governor is using the investigation to create fear among Black voters, according to Varoga. “Every single public employee involved in this illegal voter suppression and abuse of law enforcement is a partisan Republican,” he said. “With every unlawful action and every partisan statement, they are providing more evidence that this is an abuse of civil rights and voting rights.”
Pence’s deputy chief of staff, Matthew Lloyd, called the allegations “completely false and beyond absurd.”
“In fact, the Indiana State Police has uncovered strong evidence of voter fraud by Patriot Majority USA,” said Lloyd. “Among Governor Pence’s top priorities is ensuring the integrity of the election and that every single Hoosier vote counts.”
While campaigning in Iowa, Pence called on his supporters to be “poll watchers” — the same way Trump does at his rallies.
“In the state of Indiana, we have a pretty vigorous investigation into voter fraud going on right now,” Pence told the crowd. “And I encourage you here in Iowa, let’s be sure that our state officials are upholding the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ and the best antidote to that is to be involved in the election process. If you are concerned about voter integrity and you haven’t signed up to be a poll watcher, to volunteer at a polling place to be a part of the integrity of that process, then you need to do it.”
Trump supporters have come right out and said they will check out “certain” areas — areas with primarily Black and Latino populations.
“Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fairfield, Ohio, told the Boston Globe. “I’ll look for … well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American. I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
The act of “poll watching” largely serves to intimidate voters from traditionally disenfranchised groups. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, voter challenger laws in many states “are susceptible to abuse.” In a report titled “Voter Challengers,” Nicolas Riley, who serves as counsel and fellow at the Center, writes, “Twenty-four states allow private citizens to challenge a voter at the polls without offering any documentation to show that the voter is actually ineligible. This leaves even lawful voters vulnerable to frivolous or discriminatory challenges.”
Voter intimidation is frequently guised as an attempt to prevent “voter fraud”; however, numerous studies have shown that “voter fraud” is virtually nonexistent and is more often than not the result of clerical errors. The myth of voter fraud has primarily served to enforce strict voter identification laws, which disenfranchise minority voters, courts across the country have recently ruled.