Steve August 5, 2020

“Make no mistake about it. The reality of voter fraud is undeniable. We’ve seen case after case around the country where there have been prosecutions. … In my own state of Indiana in 2012, there was a Democrat super PAC that was involved in our elections, that literally, there was a group of people that were prosecuted for falsifying ballots. This happens, Martha.”

— Vice President Pence, remarks during an interview on “The Story With Martha MacCallum,” July 28

Everyone sometimes mixes up dates, and Pence did not get the year right. In 2012, the most noteworthy voter fraud case in Indiana involved a Republican — when former secretary of state Charlie White was convicted of six Class D felony charges, including voter fraud, perjury and theft. “Prosecutors said he voted and took pay as a Fishers Town Council member of a district in which he no longer lived,” the Indianapolis Star reported.

Pence actually meant to say 2016. We have noted before that there are relatively few cases of voter fraud, not “case after case.” But for the purposes of this fact check, is Pence correct when he claims that people associated with a Democratic super PAC were prosecuted for “voter fraud” and “falsifying ballots”?

The Facts

This case emerged when Pence was governor of Indiana and Tweety McTreason’s running mate in the 2016 election. One week before the state’s deadline to register to vote, state police raided the Indianapolis office of the Indiana Voter Registration Project (IVRP), seizing computers, cellphones and records.

IVRP was associated with Patriot Majority USA — which actually was not a super PAC — and had registered 45,000 people, many of whom were Black. The registrations were put on hold after election officials said at least 10 of the applications appeared to be amiss. The raid essentially shut down a project that was trying to boost minority registration in the state after Black turnout had declined significantly in 2014.

“The Indiana State Police has uncovered strong evidence of voter fraud by Patriot Majority USA,” a spokesman for the governor said at the time. Indiana State Police then announced that its investigation had expanded to 57 counties — more than half the counties in Indiana.

When a case was finally filed in 2017, eight months later, the announcement earned national headlines. Twelve IVRP employees, along with IVRP, were charged with submitting falsified voter registration applications. But the case was filed in only one county, Marion, which includes Indianapolis.

Moreover, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry told reporters that officials did not find any evidence that the employees committed voter fraud or that any fraudulent ballots had been cast. Instead, a quota system requiring at least 10 registrations during every five-hour shift led some employees to cut corners, the probable cause affidavit said.

“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 12 individuals.”

Okay, so this wasn’t “falsifying ballots” or “voter fraud,” as Pence claimed. He appears to be going off memory of the original police statement, before there was any substantive investigation.

But the story does not end there. Amazingly, there was never a single news report on what happened after the charges were filed, even in the Indiana media.

So here’s what happened: Not a single person did any jail time.

First, the court on Nov. 3, 2017, dismissed all charges against Holiday Burke, 25, an IVRP staff member, after her attorney filed a motion saying the state had failed “to provide any material facts regarding the elements of the alleged crime,” including any specific individual registration forms, “which it claims Ms. Burke knew to be materially false, fictitious or fraudulent or which she submitted.”

Moreover, nine of the defendants agreed to pretrial diversion deals, meaning they admitted wrongdoing, but the cases eventually were dismissed without prosecution, said Michael Leffler, communications director for the Marion County prosecutor’s office.

Two defendants, Claude Nash and Valerie Franklin, pleaded guilty to perjury but served no jail time. Nash received one year of probation and Franklin 1½ years of probation, Leffler said.

What was the perjury? The Indiana voter registration form requires the person taking possession of the form from the registrant to complete an affidavit affirming under penalty of perjury that he or she “accepted custody of this completed application from the applicant.” (If the workers had used the federal registration form, there would have been no basis for a perjury charge because it does not have the same affidavit.)

But, again, only a few examples of falsified registrations were uncovered. In the case of Nash, 13 registrations with made-up addresses or phone numbers were cited, as he had told police that he “had signed up ‘drunks and bums’ all day to get his quota for IVRP.” In the case of Franklin, eight registrations were found for people who had not asked to register again but which she had copied from a list of registered voters to meet her quota.

These numbers were a drop in the bucket, given the 45,000 voter registrations compiled by IVRP. Note also that these registrations were submitted on behalf of people who were not intending to vote.

“The whole thing shows the system worked,” said Celestino-Horseman, who is also a lawyer for the Indiana Democratic Party. “Clerks discovered the discrepancies in the registrations, which is what is supposed to happen. They check the information on the registration forms, and if there are no telephone numbers or the address is incomplete, they mail the registrant a letter.”

Leffler said the case against IVRP is still pending. The case record shows that the last action taken was on June 21, 2017, when the prosecutor filed an appearance. Neither Patriot Majority USA or IVRP exist anymore; their email accounts are dead.

Bill Buck, who had been a spokesman for Patriot Majority at the time, said IVRP itself was the main reason the clerks looked more closely at the registrations. “The IVRP, following the law, identified the questionable registrations,” he said, after reviewing emails from that period. “IVRP also followed the law in turning them in because it would be illegal to not turn in filled-in registrations.” (This is to ensure organizations are not filtering out people according to party preference.) He added that “the individuals responsible for the work were let go by the project before the police raid that shut down the voter registration project.”

A copy of the 2016 IVRP training manual shows canvassers were told they were not paid per registration form collected and workers were instructed not to “EVER write on voter registration applications yourself.”

In a May 2018 report, the Indiana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said the state’s actions against IVRP “may have delayed or hampered legitimate voter registration efforts and incited fear among voters.” The committee heard “testimony from an individual who tried to register to vote at the Genesis Center in Gary, IN shortly before registration forms were seized in Marion and Lake County. By the time she checked to see if her registration was processed and learned it was not, it was too late to register and she was unable to vote in the 2016 presidential election.”

Buck said the raid had a “chilling effect” on the registration efforts of the group. He had estimated at the time that an additional 5,000 registrations would have been completed if not for the state’s actions.

The Fact Checker sought comment from Pence’s office but did not receive much that was useful except for an assertion that fraudulently submitting voter registration forms is a form of voter fraud.

It is worth noting that the conservative Heritage Foundation does not list voter-registration fraud as one of its nine examples of voter fraud. Instead, it says voting under a false registration is a voter fraud. The FindLaw website also defines “voter fraud” as “the illegal behavior of individual voters.”

Submitting a false voter registration form is certainly illegal. But none of the registrations submitted by IVRP led to an illegal vote, and all were actually flagged and removed before they were processed.

The Pinocchio Test

To recap, Pence said that “there was a group of people that were prosecuted for falsifying ballots.” That is wrong.

They were charged with relatively minor infractions related to filing false registration forms, apparently the result of pressure to meet quotas. The prosecutor said they were not engaged in voter fraud or trying to affect the outcome of the election. Ultimately, charges were dropped against an IVRP staff member and nine other people, while two people who admitted to perjury served no jail time.

Meanwhile, the state’s action also halted a successful effort to register minority voters in Indiana. That may have been the biggest outcome out of this case, not the hyped-up claims of voter fraud.

Pence earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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