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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Indiana case shows you don't need Russians to undermine elections

Officials say local elections can be trusted despite charges filed against a Democrat-linked group accused of submitting bogus voter registration forms in as many as 56 Indiana counties — including about 1,500 of them in Allen County. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Officials say local elections can be trusted despite charges filed against a Democrat-linked group accused of submitting bogus voter registration forms in as many as 56 Indiana counties — including about 1,500 of them in Allen County. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Maye Johnson
Maye Johnson
Barry Schust
Barry Schust
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Saturday, June 17, 2017 12:01 am

This week's attack by a gun-toting lunatic with a grudge against Republicans in general and Donald Trump in particular has been cited as the predictable byproduct of America's increasingly toxic political discourse, but the perceived illegitimacy of November's presidential election could not have helped — a perception illustrated by events back home in Indiana having absolutely nothing to do with Russians.

An Indiana State Police investigation this week produced charges that 11 temporary workers hired by the Indiana Voter Registration Project, along with supervisor Holiday Burke, had submitted fraudulent voter registration forms last fall. The project was overseen by Patriot Majority USA, which has ties to the Democratic Party, and collected about 45,000 registration forms in 56 Hoosier counties.

That included at least 1,500 in Allen County, including 151 forms listing out-of-county addresses and 400 that lacked driver's license or partial Social Security numbers.

For all the talk about the Russians somehow stealing victory from Hillary Clinton last November, no proof has been offered and, in fact, electronic voting machines cannot be "hacked" because they are not connected to the Internet. Even so, the mere suspicion has invited opponents to label Trump's victory as illegitimate, and an illegitimate government deserves to be violently resisted — at least in the minds of those angry or delusional enough to justify violence against the defenseless.

The Indiana case, on the other hand, is all too real and demonstrates how the electoral process can be manipulated not from thousands of miles away, but from right here at home by people who either don't care about protecting the process or are actively working to rig it.

Trump was widely mocked when he created a commission last month to examine voter fraud and suppression. He had never offered any real proof of how he would have won the popular vote against Clinton if not for millions of votes cast by illegal immigrants, and critics suggested Trump was desperate to find something — anything — to support his claim.

But Old Dominion University political scientist Jesse Richman has concluded that at least 800,000 non-citizens voted for Clinton. That hardly supports Trump's boast but could have been more than enough votes to influence some local races. And remember what happened after a recount was conducted in Michigan following the presidential election? It was revealed that 37 percent of precincts in Detroit tabulated 782 more votes than had been recorded by poll workers.

Whether such things are the result of fraud or mere incompetence is hard to determine, which was the point made by Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, a Democrat, following this week's indictments. "Without regard to the motivation," he said, "the paramount concern is protecting the integrity of the electoral process . . . (this arose from) "a very bad, ill-advised business practice" of establishing registration quotas for workers.

But the result is the same either way: People not legally eligible to vote might do so, influencing the election's credibility if not its results.

Maye Johnson, Democratic member of the Allen County Voter Registration Board, said registration errors are not uncommon when third-party groups are involved. That's why she tries to convince members of such groups to seek the proper training before hitting the streets in search of would-be voters. Setting quotas is dangerous, she said, because filling out applications takes time. And as legal documents subject to the charges of perjury, accuracy is essential.

Even so, she and Republican counterpart Barry Schust agree, Allen County residents can vote with confidence. "They can have a great deal of trust in the system, but this is all the more reason we need voter-ID laws."

Yes, but as I wrote the day before James Hodgkinson critically wounded Rep. Steve Scalise and others before being killed by Capital guards, we also need to rediscover civility in place of the overheated rhetoric that at best inflames passions and at worst inspires lunatics to violence.

Liberals and conservatives will of course disagree over which side's verbal sins are the most egregious (although I'm unaware of conservative comedians cutting off presidents' heads or killing them in Broadway plays), and only Hodgkinson is to blame for his actions. But not even total confidence in electoral results can fully compensate for the impulse to demonize opponents. In Allen County, both parties agree, we manage to have credible contests and a fair amount of bipartisanship with a minimum of vitriol.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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