Indiana's top cop suggested Friday that investigators had uncovered several instances of voter fraud in the state, an allegation that adds fuel to a fiery debate over whether elections are "rigged" and subject to abuse.
Indiana State Police Supt. Douglas Carter said in a local TV interview that Gov. Mike Pence "absolutely did not misspeak" this week when he warned supporters of potential voter fraud during a campaign stop in Nevada. Carter said he believed there was voter fraud in "every state," including Indiana.
Carter refused to provide details about how many instances of voter fraud police have found, or the exact nature of the fraud — whether investigators found, for example, cases of people registering to vote multiple times or whether those ineligible to vote tried to register.
A state police spokesman, Capt. David Bursten, also declined to share details, saying that "the superintendent's interview speaks for itself."
The comments came amid an ongoing state investigation into potential voter fraud in 56 of Indiana's 92 counties, which isn't likely to be resolved before election day, Nov. 8.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly charged that the election is "rigged" against him. Pence, his running mate, said voter fraud can be found in "pockets and places around the country."
Experts have found voter fraud to be extremely rare, with one study from a Loyola Law School professor finding just 31 credible claims of fraud amid more than 1 billion ballots cast since 2000. The head elections officers in most presidential battleground states are Republicans.
The Indiana investigation, prompted by a tip to police and launched on Oct. 4 in Hendricks County and Marion County, focuses on voter registration forms submitted by a group called the Indiana Voter Registration Project. The group had submitted registration forms with "missing, incomplete and incorrect information," according to a police statement.
A Hendricks County clerk who said she received 10 questionable registration forms from the group also told police that signatures on some forms did not match images in a county database. Police served a search warrant on the organization's downtown Indianapolis office when the investigation launched and expanded the inquiry within days.
Police concerns over potential fraud heightened this week when Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in a statement that elections officials had separately contacted police after finding "thousands of dates of births and first names were changed" in an online voter database in "a case of voter fraud." That statement landed on Tuesday. On Thursday, Lawson changed her tone, saying the flagged changes could be legitimate ones from individual voters.
"That should give Indiana voters the comfort that we are vigilant and we are protecting their rights and the elections here are not rigged," she told the Associated Press.
Officials for Indiana Voter Registration Project, which is connected to Washington-based nonprofit Patriot Majority USA, have denied the fraud accusations and said Pence and other Republicans are targeting the group to suppress votes.
Lawson is a Republican, and public records show that Carter, a Pence appointee, has donated generously to Republicans. When running for Hamilton County commissioner in 2011 and 2012 — the same year he was appointed to his current position — his campaign donated a total of $2,250 to Pence's campaign.
Bursten, the state police spokesman, said Friday that the accusations that police were colluding with Pence were "outrageous" and "completely false."
"There's a thorough investigation underway, and when it is complete the results will be handed over to local prosecutors … who will proceed with the process," Bursten said.
Patriot Majority USA has Democratic ties but said its voter registration efforts are nonpartisan. Group officials said its canvassers targeted African Americans across the state earlier in the year and collected 45,000 registration forms. Representatives acknowledged the organization had submitted some incomplete registrations, but said it had pointed those out to county clerks and was not attempting fraud.
"The Indiana statewide voter file that is being used to attack the voter registration program is filled with hundreds of thousands of mistakes. These wild accusations of fraud are based on one of the most flawed voter file systems in the country, which is maintained by a partisan Secretary of State," Bill Buck, spokesman Patriot Majority USA, said in an email.
Though rare, voting fraud has been a tense point of debate between Democrats and Republicans even before the current election. In Indiana and several additional states, Republicans have pushed voter identification laws and increased other restrictions on voting, often saying new laws were needed to prevent fraud. Democrats have countered that voter ID rules and related laws suppress the votes of minority groups such as African Americans and lower-income voters, who tend to vote Democratic.