Complaint filed over voter registration practices in Tippecanoe County

A dispute over voter registration has erupted in Tippecanoe County, with two voting rights organizations alleging the county has been asking for more proof of residency than required by law and the county clerk asserting the organizations misunderstand the registration process and have mischaracterized the situation.

Common Cause Indiana and the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette filed an administrative complaint with the Indiana Election Division July 21 alleging the Tippecanoe County Board of Elections and Registration is violating state and federal voter registration laws.

They claim the Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush advised her staff to require first-time registrants whose paper registrations are hand-delivered by a third-party to provide additional proof of residency. Citing statute and correspondence from the IED, they note additional residency documentation is required only when the voter registration is mailed through the U.S. Postal Service.

Julia Vaughn, executive director of Common Cause Indiana, identified the Lafayette chapter of the League of Women Voters as bringing the matter to the public’s attention.

“… It is critically important that every county in Indiana implement our voting laws consistently and by the book,” Vaughn said in a statement. “It’s already harder to vote in Indiana than in most other states. Erecting additional administrative barriers to the ballot box cannot be allowed and we hope that the action we are taking today will force Tippecanoe County to come into compliance with the law and send notice to other counties that violations will not be tolerated.”

However, Roush denied the allegations. In a statement, she countered that the election board staff “go the extra mile” to contact registrants and that “all eligible voter registrations get registered.”

“I did not advise Election Board staff to require a first-time voter registrant who paper voter registration form was hand delivered to produce additional proof of residency documentation,” Roush said in a statement. “There has not been a Voter Registration application in our county rejected due to the lack of residency documentation.”

According to the administrative complaint, the League of Women Voters became aware of the registration problem when conducting voter registration drives includes those focused on young people, first-time voters and disenfranchised communities.

The LWV noted it registers more than 500 seniors in area high schools each year and regularly conducts voter registration drives at Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette and at Purdue University. Commonly, the copies of the “federally-prescribed voter registration form” are completed by the applicants then collected and delivered by League volunteers.

Typically, the complaint states, these “young, first-time voters, including young people of color” often do not have a photo ID that reflects their current address or another proof of residency.

“The League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette works hard to register voters and encourage civic participation in our community,” Ken Jones, chair of the LWVGO voter services committee said in a statement. “We have a long tradition of outreach at high schools and area colleges to register first-time voters. Our efforts are being undermined by county election officials, who are requiring new voters to jump through additional hoops before their votes will be counted. This is unnecessary and unlawful, and our complaint seeks to bring it to an end, since county officials aren’t willing to take the state’s directives.”

Roush countered her staff has worked with Jones to “help him understand the identity requirements.” Also, she asserted that every federal voter application he submitted was processed.

“Mr. Jones was originally contacted by staff to encourage him to instruct students to write legibly and include an email or phone number so they could be contact if there were problems,” Roush said in her statement. “Stacks of applications turned in by advocacy groups need a special level of review. Often these harvested applications are illegible, including residencies other than our county or state, addresses are undeliverable as written, and even birth dates and signatures are missing.”

The IED co-directors have been communicating with Tippecanoe County’s election board since the beginning of 2022. In February, the IED sent an email explaining proof of Indiana residency is required only when the voter registration is sent through the mail, the complaint states.

The board responded by highlighting state statute where it believed a “doubling down” was required on the proof of residency. Specifically, the board explained that under Indiana Code section 3-7-22-9(3) voter registration applications that are hand-delivered by a third-party must be treated the same as those deliver by mail.

“(Indiana Code section) 3-7-33-4.5(1) seems to affirm document of residency is required by referring back to IC 3-7-22 within that section, in essence, doubling down,” board staff Germany Harris wrote in an email to the IED. “If IC 3-7-22-9 isn’t requiring those three manners of submission to be treated the same, it would not have been written that way.”

The IED replied by pointing out “the statute you cite” refers to the registration form is that sent through the mail. The statute does not describe hand-delivered registrations as being mailed. Further, IC 3-7-33-4.5(a) requires only mailed registration forms to provide residency documentation.

“Your Board does not have home rule authority to establish voter registration requirement not codified in federal and state voter registration law,” IED co-director Angela Nussmeyer wrote. “The procedure documented (as happening in Tippecanoe County), in my view, does not comply with our state and federal registration laws and should no longer be followed.”

Common Cause and the League of Women Voters is asking the IED to ensure the Tippecanoe County Board of Elections and Registration compiles with the Indiana voter registration statute and the Home Rule Act. Also, they want the IED to review all Tippecanoe County voter registrations entered from Jan. 1, 2018, to present and approve those that were “wrongfully flagged” as needing additional documentation.

“While we are hopeful that the IDE will use it authority in the next ninety days to resolve these violations by bringing the Board into compliance with the law, we are prepared to move forward with litigation if a resolution is not achieved,” Common Cause and the League wrote.

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