Did Mike Pence engage in voter suppression in Indiana?

Progressive advocacy group Patriot Majority USA is launching an ad campaign against Mike Pence following an Indiana state police raid of the offices of a voter registration program aimed at signing up African Americans. 

Erica Yoon/The Roanoke Times/AP
Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va., on Oct. 12, 2016.

A series of new radio and print advertisements denouncing Mike Pence are set to go public in Indiana, where an advocacy group has accused the Republican vice presidential nominee of allowing voter suppression.

Patriot Majority USA, a group affiliated with the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC that supports Democratic candidates, is launching an advertising campaign following an Indiana state police raid of the offices of a voter registration program. The advertisements claim that as many as 45,000 people, most of them African Americans, might not be able to vote in the presidential election if investigators put a hold on applications collected by the group.

The raid and subsequent accusations of voter suppression come in the final weeks of an election season that has raised widespread concern over voter fraud, due in large part to warnings from Republican nominee Donald Trump of a rigged election and his calls for GOP supporters to monitor the polls on election day. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that 46 percent of registered voters – and more than two-thirds of Trump supporters – believe that voter fraud, defined as multiple votes being cast by a single person or an ineligible person casting a ballot, occurs very or somewhat often. 

But the growing concern over voter fraud has led to arguments from the other side that efforts to prevent fraud, such as poll monitoring, could result in voter intimidation and threaten the democratic election process. 

"The use of police intimidation to prevent minority voters from taking part in this November’s elections are currently unprecedented in the United States," writes Patriot Majority USA on the website dontbetrayindiana.com. 

On Oct. 4, Indiana State Troopers raided the Indianapolis office of the Indiana Voter Registration Project, seizing computers, cellphones, and records. The raid was the result of an investigation that began in August, after elections officials in suburban Hendricks County suspected that some applications may have been fraudulent.

On its website, Patriot Majority USA claims that the state police during the raid "violated numerous legal standards and Constitutional protections, including (but not limited to) the rights of registration workers to legal representation when they were detained by police." Officers also allegedly prohibited employees from videotaping the raid, as well as putting one African American male in handcuffs and denying him the right to an attorney.

At the time of the raid, the program had reportedly collected 45,000 applications. In an email to The Washington Post on Saturday night, Indiana State Police spokesman Captain David Bursten said that "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." 

Captain Bursten told the Post that the investigation did not equate to voter suppression.

"Every allegation by Patriot Majority USA against the Indiana State Police is completely false," he said. "In fact, it is clear from evidence documented to date that we have uncovered intentional acts of fraud by representatives of Patriot Majority USA."

A spokesman for Pence made similar claims, calling the allegations "completely false and beyond absurd."

Last week, the Indiana Voter Registration Project, which describes itself as nonpartisan, released a statement in response to the investigation and Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson's urging that voters check their registrations to ensure their accuracy. 

"As part of its quality-assurance program, the Indiana Voter Registration Project has reviewed tens of thousands of applications and identified a small handful that may have had incomplete or inaccurate information and, in those instances, we immediately informed the Registrar and asked them to double check those forms for accuracy," spokeswoman Christy Setzer said. "We have and will continue to work with Indiana authorities to resolve these issues, so that no one is prevented from voting in November who is eligible to do so." 

In addition to launching an advertising campaign, Patriot Majority USA has asked the Justice Department to investigate the state police investigation. Another voting rights advocacy organization, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, sent a letter to Secretary Lawson asking her to ensure that eligible voters who signed up through the voter registration drive will not be disenfranchised come November. 

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.