GOP Election Fraud In Indiana’s La Porte County

Before any conservatives whine about the Democrat who was goaded into speculating about how voters could hypothetically commit in-person voter fraud at the polls, please learn the difference between actual voter disenfranchisement, which prevents qualified voters from exercising their civil rights, and someone speaking off the cuff about how, hypothetically, a very stupid voter could risk jail time and a felony charge by attempting to falsify a utility bill, which is a strategy that probably would not even work.

In one case–voter disenfranchisement–an actual crime has been committed. Voter registration forms have been discarded, voting machines have been proven not to be tamper-proof, laws are being pushed to restrict voting access and ease and not trying to fraudulently attempt to vote. No conservatives attempting to block access to voting or throwing out registrations from Democrats or printing incorrect information on polling information papers (especially those targeting Spanish-speaking voters), or posting incorrect information on official government websites and offering incorrect information on recorded telephone answering service messages, or trying to selective register Romney voters, or buying up 145 billboards lying about voter ID laws that have not passed and trying to intimidate voters in poor people-, minority-, or student-populated areas…not one single conservative has said, “hey, this is wrong” or admitted fault or resigned from their positions.

In the other case, a conservative operative actively digging for something to yell “gotcha!” about deliberately kept prodding a Dem to speculate about how something could possibly be done–but which has not actually ever been documented as having happened–and that Dem resigned immediately from his position and apologized profusely for falling for the dirty trick.

DailyKOS writer Don Briggs wrote an excellent diary about how the Republicans in Indiana successfully purged about one in every six voters–“about 20% of our voters—16% of them illegally.” Unfortunately for the GOP, “they were caught red handed at the last minute” and La Porte County is rushing to make sure they all eligible voters are back in the system in time for Election Day.

La Porte County Democratic Chair John Jones is not placated and is calling for a federal investigation. La Porte voters initially approached the Election Board with concerns about the purges going on back in February, 2012. They felt that purging 20% of all voters seemed excessive. According to Briggs, several groups complained and urged examination of the purging:

NAACP Branch 3061 wrote a heads-up letter to the Election Board based on the sheer size of the purge; the La Porte County Democratic Civic Club […] took keen interest; and John Jones, La Porte County Democratic Chair, asked me to write up allegations made by Civic Club member Jeana Blake. Jones then sent the allegations to the Election Board. The Election Board convened in February to consider the allegations.

See, it appeared that there was something hinky going on; a pattern of errors traced back to one specific worker in the Voter Registration Office was ringing alarm bells. Jeana Blake, the Co-Director of the Voter Registration Office, said she was aware that the office was considering purging 800 inactive voters, but she was out of the office for three months while recovery from surgery. When she returned, she was surprised that Donna Harris’ staff, which she had no authority over, were supposedly still beavering away to purge 800 voters. She was, needless to say, quite startled and upset when she found out the actual scope of the purges.

The Director of Voter Registration, Donna Harris–who was appointed to her position by her husband, Chair of the La Porte County GOP, Keith Harris–swore that her office wasn’t engaging in anything improper, but the current Clerk of the Circuit Court, Lynn Spevak, and a member of the Election Board declined to take Harris’ word for that after a voter called, upset that she was unable to vote.

Donna Harris pursued this rogue purge aggressively, and against the advice of Jeana Blake from the start. Blake has served in our Voter Registration Office for more than ten years. Donna Harris has been there for two years. Harris continued to pursue the rogue purge after the February 27th meeting.

Spevak investigated and determined that the upset voter had indeed been purged incorrectly, and asked for a “spot check.” This confirmed the February allegations: there was an 80% error rate. 80% of the voters purged should not have been. Boy, says the Election Board, are our faces red! We are so embarrassed!

Interestingly, Keith Harris wants Spevak’s job: he is the GOP candidate for Clerk of the Circuit Court. He was also on not one but two County-wide ballots while his wife was the Voter Registration Director. Can you say conflict of interest, boys and girls? I knew you could!

Local Democrats are planning to call the voters affected by the purging and let them know what the Republicans attempted to do, and what Lynne Spevak, the Democratic Clerk of the Circuit Court, did to get them reinstated on the voting rolls:

“Hi, my name is __ and I’m calling from La Porte.
The La Porte County Republican Party took away your right to vote, illegally.
Does that make you mad?
Democrats have restored it, just in time, and you can retaliate…”

Matt Fritz, a staff writer at The La Porte Indiana Herald Argus, has also been taking a keen interest in these events. On October 24, 2012, Fritz reported that the Democrat party chair is asking the federal government to get involved in investigating the wrongful purge of 13,000 La Porte County voters:

[La Porte County Democrat Party Chair] John Jones said in a press release that he will be asking the U.S. Department of Justice Election Integrity Task Force to investigate exactly how the purge happened, which he said was an “effort led by Republican voters’ appointee Donna Harris, the wife of county Republican chairman Keith Harris.”

Originally some 800 inactive voters were supposed to be purged in 2011. Voters are inactive if they fail to vote over two federal election cycles, meaning they have not voted since before the 2008 election that seated President Barack Obama in office. But the 13,303 who were canceled included voters who voted in Obama’s election.

Jones went on to say that “federal law is clear that voters can only be purged if they have not voted in two federal election cycles. Yet Ms. Harris began a systematic effort to wipe off the voter rolls over 13,000 voters even though they had voted in 2008 but not voted in 2010 and 2011. Well, 2011 was city elections and that doesn’t count for purposes of a purge. This was wrong and Donna Harris and Keith Harris should have known better.”

Republican Party Chairman Keith Harris said he does not believe this was a partisan effort to eliminate Democrat voters, pointing out that it was the Republican co-director Donna, his wife, who developed the plan to correct the problem, and then led the effort to have it resolved.

In an earlier article by Fritz and in a similar article for The Michigan City Indiana News-Dispatch, he quoted Amber Lapaich-Stalbrink, county Election Board member, who described the whole situation as “an embarrassment” and Chairman John Jones:

“An overzealous cleaning of the records is a move that can’t be tolerated,” said […] Jones, who cited statistics that Indiana was second in the nation for voter purges this year. He said 21 percent of its voters were eliminated, and pointed out that 10,000 absentee voters were canceled, a 150 percent increase from the last election cycle.

Voter registration co-director Donna Harris said she notified state officials last week, and was told the process can be reversed. She said the state might be able to come to La Porte with a program to fix the problem all at once, but while she waits her office staff have been reregistering the voters by hand. She said 4,656 have already been completed.

Jones asked that a tally of Republican versus Democrat voters be made during the re-registration to see if there is a disparage between the two, explaining that there was an unprecedented number of new voters with Obama’s last election so this seemed like a way to disenfranchise Democrats. “I’m appalled that we couldn’t follow a simple rule,” he said, “and purged the voters a year early.”

But Republican chair Keith Harris said a tally would slow down the re-registration process, so he recommended waiting until all voters were back online. He said the mistake was due to inadequate training and pointed out that the removals were performed by both Republicans and Democrats. He said the Republicans wanted everyone voting as much as the Democrats.

Board member Greg Hofer suggested having two signatures, one from a Democrat and one from a Republican, on any canceled voter registration from now on to make sure this does not happen again.

Reporter Fritz urges Indiana voters who are concerned that they may have been purged to check online. If they have a Post Office Box address, however, he says that they will need to call the Voter Registration office directly at  (219) 326-6808 extension 2242 or 2250.

Nice try, Republicans. If you feel you have to purge thousands of voters in an attempt to get an unfair advantage during an election, then maybe your party’s policies and ideas suck.

Lorelei welcomes you to visit Liberal Lore on FacebookTwitter, her blog, or at Addicting Info.