Twelve employees of the Indiana Voter Registration Project, which focused on registering black voters in the run up to last year’s presidential election, were charged Friday with submitting falsified voter registration applications. The voter registration group also faces criminal charges.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said officials did not find any evidence that fraudulent ballots were cast in last November’s election or that the group and its employees committed voter fraud. “These allegations pertain to voter registration applications provided to county officials before the November election,” he said in a news release. “Let me be clear that these are not allegations of voter fraud nor is there any evidence to suggest that voter fraud was the alleged motivation.”
Instead, Curry said that the workers who turned in the problematic applications were trying to meet a quota system to keep their jobs. “We do not believe this was a widespread effort to infringe voters, intentionally register ineligible individuals, or to impact the election. Instead we allege that a bad business practice led to illegal actions by the local association and these 12 individuals,” Curry said.
The probable cause affidavit said the employees, who were paid $50 a day for a five-hour shift, were “pressured” by supervisors to get 10 registrations per shift “or risk termination.”
The charges come after an investigation that began last August, when an elections official in Hendricks County, a suburb of Indianapolis, alerted the state police that applications submitted by the Voter Registration Project appeared to have “inconsistencies, missing information and erroneous data when compared to the on-file registrations for voters.” The state police expanded its investigation to Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, and eventually to 56 of Indiana’s 92 counties. The charges announced Friday are for alleged violations in only Marion and Hendricks counties.
After state police raided the Indiana Voter Registration Project’s Indianapolis office, Craig Varoga, director of Patriot Majority USA, the progressive super PAC that funded the effort, accused then-Gov. Mike Pence of allowing voter suppression in his state. The group launched a radio ad campaign saying that Republican state officials were targeting African Americans voters.
Pence, who at the time was President Trump’s running mate, mentioned on the campaign trail that his state was in the midst of “a pretty vigorous investigation into voter fraud.” The war of words came during the same time Trump started urging his supporters to “certain areas” and to keep an eye out for people trying to “vote five times” in an effort to steal the election from him. Even after he won by getting more electoral votes, Trump falsely claimed that millions of illegal voters cast ballots as a way to explain why he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton. Last month, Trump created a commission to study voter fraud and voter suppression.
State and local Democratic officials in Indiana also criticized Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican, for charged rhetoric suggesting massive fraud, and the leadership of the state police for widening its investigation to more than half the state based on a handful of applications with missing or inaccurate information.
Curry told the Associated Press that investigators found no evidence of widespread fraud or voter suppression. Rather, he blamed the quota system, which he said “caused these canvassers to cut corners and do things that not only undermined the goal of having legitimate registered voters but led to a situation where we allege it bled over into criminal conduct.”
Varoga said last fall that the group had submitted about 45,000 applications. Curry told the AP on Friday that a “relatively small number” of those applications were found to have problems.
The 12 workers, including one described as a supervisor, are charged with procuring and submitting fraudulent voter registration applications and perjury. If convicted, the 12 workers face a penalty of up to 2 ½ years in prison and a fine of $10,000. The Indiana Voter Registration Project would be fined $10,000. A spokeswoman for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office said arrest warrants had been issued for the accused.
Varoga, of Patriot Majority USA, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.