Voter registration violations found in Tippecanoe Co., but no one prevented from casting ballot

IL file photo

The Indiana Election Commission has found Tippecanoe County officials violated state and federal voter registration laws but noted there is no evidence any individual was prevented from participating in an election as a result.

In a report adopted by the commission Thursday, one or more employees of the Tippecanoe County Board of Elections and Registration was found to have violated Title III of the Help America Vote Act as well as the state’s voter registration law, Indiana Code section 3-7-33-4.5, at least up until March 2022.

Specifically, voters whose registration forms were walked into the election office were asked to provide additional proof of residency even though, under law, they are not required to do so.

However, the Indiana Election Division, which investigated the matter, also determined there was no evidence that the violation prevented any individual from registering to vote or casting a ballot. In addition, the division stated the violations have stopped.

“We don’t necessarily agree that there was any violation back in March, but whatever the problems were, were fixed in March,” Douglas Masson, managing partner at Hoffman Luhman & Masson, who represented the board, said. “Ultimately, we’re happy that nobody was prevented from registering or voting.”

The commission’s order was the response to a complaint filed in July 2022 by Common Cause Indiana and the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette. The organizations alleged the board violated voter registration laws by requiring first-time voters whose application forms were hand-delivered to the election office to show proof of Indiana residency.

“We are pleased with the actions taken by the Indiana Election Commission today to ensure that voter registrations in Tippecanoe County can be processed as prescribed in state and federal law,” Ken Jones, voter services chair for the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette, said in a Jan. 5 statement. “It is good to know that the Board of Elections and Registration took steps to correct their actions earlier this year.”

The report pointed out the board “promptly took corrective action” to remedy the violations in March of last year. Still, the commission recommended additional steps.

In particular, the board was advised to update training materials and guidance to staff on residency documentation requirements, and to work with software vendor Civix to retrain all employees on how to enter data into the statewide voter registration system.

“I think there’s been training on when and how to flag things properly,” Masson said. “The board might do some more just so they can document how they’ve done what the Election Commission wants.”

In their complaint, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters alleged at least one newly registered voter who hand-delivered a paper voter registration form was required to cast a provisional ballot. Moreover, at its May 13, 2022, meeting, the board refused to count that provisional ballot because the voter did not provide proof of residency.

Tippecanoe County Circuit Court Clerk and board member Julie Roush, along with Republican board member Randall Vonderheide and Democratic board member E. Kent Moore, all denied the allegation in their responses to the IED.

No ballots were rejected at the May 13, 2022, meeting for failure to provide residency documentation, the board members told the IED. Two provisional ballots were not accepted because the individuals did not produce a valid form of registration and another was refused because the voter “abandoned the polling place to pursue the option of a write in candidate.”

The investigation by IED found some confusion was caused by the instructions on the federal voter registration form. Individuals were asked to provide the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, or their Indiana driver’s license numbers. However, driver’s licenses have a 10-digit number, so when applicants provided only the last four numbers, staff had to contact them to get the full number to complete the registration.

Also, IED co-director Angela Nussmeyer discovered that seven voters had their registrations improperly flagged because of an error when their information was entered into Civix. The voters were marked not only as “walk-in” because they hand-delivered the registration to the election office, but also as “yes,” which indicated they had mailed their registration.

“In the view of Co-Director Nussmeyer, each of these entries appear to be a violation of the (Help America Vote Act), as a first-time voter would only be required to present additional proof of residency if their registration had been mailed,” the report stated. “In these seven instances, it appears the registrations were hand-delivered based on the submission method of ‘walk-in.’”

The flags placed on other registrations because of missing residency documentation appear to have been removed by the board in March 2022, according to the report. IED co-director J. Bradley King found “the evidence is clear that the Board promptly took corrective action upon learning of the issue and receiving information from the Co-Directors.”

Common Cause and the League of Women Voters had said they were concerned that voters were possibly being disenfranchised by the board’s actions.

“In a state where voters already face too many obstacles, it’s alarming to hear of administrative violations at the local level that threaten to disenfranchise, Hoosiers,” Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana executive director, said in a news release. “We appreciate the Indiana Election Division conducting a thorough investigation into this matter and the Indiana Election Commission taking action to ensure our voting laws are consistently and fairly applied across the state.”

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