At its regular meeting last Thursday, Monroe County’s three-member election board voted to forward a case it considers to be possible voter registration fraud to the county prosecutor’s office for review.
The case came after the Nov. 3, 2020 election took place, and does not involve ballots that have been cast in an election.
As described at the board’s meeting, the case involved the registration of a voter name that did not match the name on the driver’s license that was used as a credential for the registration.
“It seems like a made-up name,” said Monroe County’s election supervisor Karen Wheeler at last Thursday’s meeting.
Election board chair Carolyn VandeWiele acknowledged at Thursday’s meeting that staff erred when they accepted a name as valid for registration that did not match the name on the credential.
The name of the person now under investigation was not mentioned at the board’s Thursday meeting.
Based on details of the story that were mentioned at the board meeting, The Square Beacon reached out to journalist Margaret Menge, now a Bloomington resident. Menge confirmed that she had submitted information through the online system, with the outcome, as she described it: “They registered a person who doesn’t exist.”
Menge added, “I was testing the system. I don’t think the system is as tight and secure as they think it is.”
In an email, deputy prosecutor Jeff Kehr confirmed to The Square Beacon that the election board had contacted the prosecutor’s office about a “possible criminal violation.” Kehr said the prosecutor’s office has referred the case to the Indiana State Police for investigation.
When reached by The Square Beacon after Thursday’s meeting, both Kehr and election board chair Carolyn VandeWiele declined to name the person who is under investigation. Kehr wrote: “I can’t confirm a suspect’s name at this time, but, if charges are filed, that name would certainly be made public.”
Menge told The Square Beacon, “I think it’s fine to refer to the prosecutor’s office.” She continued, “I’m happy to go before a judge…and explain it.”
Menge added, “It’s the only way to test the system really…Otherwise you’re just left to take public officials’ word for it. I’m just not willing to do that.”
Menge said she thinks local officials make a good effort: “In my experience county election officials try, and do a pretty good job.”
But Menge thinks the voter rolls across the country should be subjected to a review by an independent authority: “I think the voter rolls nationwide should be audited by an outside firm, immediately. I think it is absolutely essential that that happen, if we want to restore faith in elections. We don’t have it right now, especially after 2020.”
Deputy county clerk, Tressia Martin, who was serving as clerk Nicole Browne’s proxy to the election board on Thursday, said, “I hate to be deceived. And I hate [for] people to make a mockery of what we hold so dear.”
Menge told The Square Beacon that her goal was not to defraud anyone: “I don’t consider it fraud. I do consider it participatory journalism. We’re testing the system.”
Menge’s local test—to see if a county will register a non-existent person as a voter—follows up on a test she did in Florida. She wrote about it in a piece for InsideSources.com, which got wide distribution last year in news outlets across the country in the spring of 2020.
That piece, about her experience in Florida, came in the context of increased national interest in vote-by-mail systems due to the coronavirus. Menge’s piece was given the headline: “Mail-in ballots make voter fraud easy. I know because I did it.”
At last Thursday’s meeting, Monroe County election board chair Carolyn VandeWiele rejected the idea in the headline that successful voter fraud had been committed.
VandeWiele said at Thursday’s meeting: “She claims that this makes voter fraud, particularly voter fraud by mail, really easy, that she’s done it. And yet, in actual fact, she never has.”
VandeWiele was drawing a distinction between registering and voting: “The point that I’m trying to make is that there are a number of checks and balances between the time you register, and the time that your vote is recorded.”
The board’s discussion of Menge’s case followed an hour-long presentation to the election board from representatives of Indiana Vote by Mail, an organization that is promoting the idea that Indiana should convert to a vote-by-mail system.
Part of the argument that IVM makes for voting by mail is based on the idea of a paper trail for voting. Whatever the system for voting—in-person or by mail—the importance of paper trail, which can be audited after the fact, has become a point of consensus among advocates for election security.
When Menge spoke with The Square Beacon, she highlighted the importance of a paper trail.
Monroe County uses hand-marked paper ballots, which mean there’s always a paper trail that can be audited.
But Menge noted that over half of counties in Indiana use voting systems that don’t generate any kind of paper trail. Menge called it “embarrassing” that this kind of situation was ever allowed.
In 2019, legislation was passed that requires all Indiana counties by 2030 to convert to systems that generate a paper trail for ballot selections.
As described by Indiana Vote by Mail vice president Barbara Tully, in her presentation to the Monroe County election board, part of the paper trail for the voter identity in vote-by-mail systems is the signature made on the vote-by-mail envelope. It is compared with the image of the voter’s signature that is on file in a database.
Responding to a question from board member Hal Turner about how that comparison is done, Tully said, “All the signature verification is done by people.”
In the current system for voter registration, one of the verification steps that is done by people, not machines, was missed when Menge submitted the voter registration information.
As VandeWiele put it, “We did err—in the fact that this name of the voter and the signature are two different names. But everybody is human.”