POLITICS

Canvassers for Dem-tied group charged in voter registration fraud scheme

Twelve employees of an Indiana group tied to former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and former President Bill Clinton were charged Friday for allegedly submitting fake or fraudulent voter registration applications before the 2016 presidential election.

The Indiana Voter Registration Project, an Indiana-based group focused on mobilizing and registering black voters, allegedly submitted an unknown number of falsified applications, according to a probable cause affidavit. Eleven canvassers temporarily employed by the group were charged by Marion County prosecutors, along with their supervisor Holiday Burke -- with one count each of procuring or submitting voter registration applications known to be “false, fictitious, or fraudulent.”

If convicted, each faces up to two-and-a-half years in prison. The group as a whole is also charged, and could face a $10,000 fine.

President Trump for months has suggested there could have been widespread voter fraud in the last election -- though to date, most public cases have involved voter registration fraud. 

In Indiana, state police began investigating the group in August after a clerk in Hendricks County, near Indianapolis, flagged about a dozen registration forms with missing or suspicious information. The investigation expanded to 56 counties.

The Indiana Voter Registration Project is overseen by Patriot Majority USA, a group that is tied to the Democratic Party and has relationships with Reid and former President Clinton. Patriot Majority said it had collected about 45,000 voter registration applications before the November 2016 general election.

Patriot Majority asked the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights division to determine whether the police investigation was an attempt to suppress black voters.

Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry, a Democrat, said the police investigation found no evidence of voter fraud or voter suppression and that the charges against the workers came from “a very bad, ill-advised business practice” of setting a quota for canvassers.

“By giving someone a financial motive to (meet a quota) is what caused these canvassers to cut corners and do things that not only undermined the goal of having legitimate registered voters but let to a situation where we allege it bled over into criminal conduct,” Curry said.

The investigation found that workers had submitted fake applications for imaginary residents, submitted new applications for people who had already been registered, and at least one application was submitted on behalf of a minor, according to Curry. 

“We do not believe this was a widespread effort to infringe voters, intentionally register ineligible individuals, or to impact the election," Curry said. "Instead we allege that a bad business practice led to illegal actions by the local association and these twelve individuals."

The search warrant, unsealed on Nov. 14, 2016, said some workers admitted to falsifying registrations, but for fear of potentially losing their temporary jobs as canvassers if they didn’t register at least 10 new voters a day.

The probable cause affidavit says the workers were paid $10 an hour and worked five-hour shifts.

The warrant indicates that Patriot Majority submitted several hundred voter registration applications that included false, incomplete or fraudulent information. The warrant's contents allowed State Police to raid the offices of Patriot Majority USA in October. Patriot Majority has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.

Curry said it's unclear how many problematic applications were submitted, but that it was "a relatively small number" of the 45,000 applications the group said it collected in Indiana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.