Voter Suppression/Deception: Indiana

Students at University of Indiana were duped into changing their party affiliation. They were asked to sign petitions to legalize marijuana and sign a second form to prove that they were US citizens, but that second form was used to change their affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

Article archived here.IUP students duped into changing party affiliation
The old caveat, read the fine print before you sign, has taken on new meaning for some students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

An official from the Indiana County Voter Registration Office estimated Tuesday that several hundred IUP students had been duped into registering as Republicans several weeks ago.

The duplicity occurred, voter registration chief Donna Hoover said, because forms that the students thought they were signing to support efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal use were actually used to register them as Republicans.

No one has lost his or her ability to vote this fall, Hoover stressed. “It is not going to make a difference for these students this time.” Voters, regardless of party registration, can select any candidate on the ballot on Nov. 2. Party registration will make a difference, however, in the primary election, when voters can only choose candidates of their party affiliation.

Indiana County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Della Jean Manning said she is already concerned how registration could affect the party’s vote count next May.

“We certainly will put forth an effort to give them (the students who were duped) an opportunity … to register as they intended to register,” she said.

In the meantime, some IUP students are feeling frustrated.

They have tried to be conscientious this election year, but the electoral system has let them down, said Richard Auvil of Blairsville, a sophomore music major.

A victim of the registration scam, Auvil signed a petition and form supporting the marijuana issue, only to find out a week or so later that the paperwork caused his party registration to be changed from Democrat to Republican.

“It is disheartening not because my party was switched but because the process was tampered with so blatantly,” he said.

Registrations pour in

The scam came to the attention of Hoover sometime last week.

Oct. 5 was the deadline for registration for this fall’s election, and the days surrounding Oct. 5 were hectic for Hoover and her staff. She said that within a two-day period, her office received 1,900 new registration forms.

While entering information from the forms into her office’s databank, she saw the county Democrats’ registration edge over the county Republicans drop by almost 350 within just a few days.

“When it changed so dramatically within 24 hours … that was enough to red flag it,” Hoover said. “I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew something was going on.”

Then last week, a phone call came in to her office that raised her suspicions even more.

The call came from an IUP student who said he had received a new registration card in the mail – even though he already had a card. Even stranger, the new card indicated the student was a registered Republican – though he insisted he had never registered that way. Similar calls from IUP students followed.

The students thought, at first, Hoover’s office had erred in sending them the new cards. She found the new registration forms to show them she had not. She checked and began to notice similarities between the forms in question.

She questioned the students about when and where they may have – deliberately or inadvertently – filled out new registration forms.

“It all came together,” Hoover said.

So far, she said, she has no idea who distributed and then submitted the bogus registration forms. Manning and Matthew Budash, Indiana County Republican Committee chairman, also say they do not know who was responsible for the paperwork.

Budash stressed his organization knows nothing about who was behind the petition drive.

“This was not sanctioned by our committee. We do not condone this.”

Michelle Fryling, IUP spokeswoman, also has no idea who is responsible. She said groups soliciting on campus are supposed to register with the Center for Student Life. But she has found no recent record of any group working on campus for marijuana legalization.

The scam

What Hoover has pieced together is this: Sometime Sept. 30 or Oct. 1, a group was on campus asking students to sign a petition to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.

According to Auvil, students were asked to sign both a petition and a form to support the issue. He had been in a rush to a rehearsal that day. He had just enough time to sign the petition and then a separate form the group told him was needed to prove he was a U.S. citizen – a prerequisite for his support of the marijuana petition.

Auvil said he filled out a few lines of the form – his name, address and the last four digits of his Social Security Number – but didn’t realize what it really was.

“I had no way of telling it was a voter-registration form,” Auvil said.

There was one space for party affiliation.

“They told me, ‘Don’t bother checking the political part,'” Auvil said. The people passing out the petition told him they did not want to politicize the issue.

Hoover thinks that was the group’s ploy – to encourage kids to fill out pertinent personal information needed to register but to persuade them to leave the question on party affiliation blank. The responsible group then filled in that blank “Republican” for the students and submitted the forms.

Hoover estimated that about 300 students were affected by the scheme on campus. That would account for most of the party switches, from Democratic to Republican, that she saw several weeks ago.

In the past week or so, Hoover has heard from between 15 and 20 people who were victimized by the scam. She has been able to check their records through a statewide voter database and tell them how they are registered as well as where they are registered.

She has concerns that some students, when they signed the form for marijuana use, may have inadvertently changed their voting venue by giving an address that differed from what appeared on their original voter-registration form.

She encourages all affected students to call her office at (724) 465-3852 or, if they think they are registered to vote in another county, to call that county’s voter registration office to find out their current status.

Hoover said any student who discovers his or her voting registration has been changed to a site out of Indiana County can request an absentee ballot through Oct. 26.

Fryling said IUP is alerting students about the scam through the university’s Web site, www.iup.edu The site will also contain a link to telephone numbers for county voter registration offices around Pennsylvania.

Confusion reigns

Hoover has worked in Indiana County’s voter registration office for almost 30 years, and said this was the largest registration scam she has ever seen. She said she feels bad that young people are the victims.

“The kids have been very conscientious, even before this,” she said.

She has received a lot questions about the right way to register and vote. “They say, ‘I don’t want to be registered two places. I don’t want to do anything illegal.'”

Auvil said he knows many students have been taking this election seriously. That’s why they are upset about the scam.

“A girl came up to me and said, ‘This is so frustrating.'” She had tried so hard to do everything right but then she fell victim to the scheme. “She said, ‘Now all of a sudden I am in another mess.'”

It is not only Democrats who are unhappy about the situation, Auvil said. He thinks Republicans are also concerned. “Just knowing the same thing could happen to them, they were … frustrated, too,” he said.

IUP is not the only college campus that has been the site of registration fraud this fall.

The Reporter, a newspaper from suburban Philadelphia, included a story Tuesday about a registration scam very similar to the one at IUP. The scam occurred at Montgomery County Community College in Norristown and concerned fraud that happened as a part of a petition drive that was supposed to be for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

©Indiana Printing & Publishing Co. 2004

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