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Mark Barnett, the attorney general of South Dakota, says that Republican allegations of voter fraud in the recent election of Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) over challenger John Thune (R-SD) are baseless. Barnett is a Republican. Republican National Committee (RNC) officials have turned over 50 affidavits to Barnett’s office, alleging an array of crimes and improprieties. Barnett says only one allegation merits any further inquiry. “Many of the things alleged simply are not crimes,” Barnett says. “Those affidavits simply do not give me cause to think there was an election rip-off.” RNC officials secured affidavits from Republican poll watchers after Johnson’s 524-vote victory over Thune, and gave the affidavits to South Dakota prosecutors in late November. Barnett intends to investigate claims that voters were offered cash to vote. “It’s the two or three affidavits out of 50 that really jumped out and grabbed me as something I need to follow up on,” he says. “I don’t express any opinion on whether those affidavits are true or can be proved. We’re going to have those interviews done.” The “cash for votes” allegation was made in three of the 50 affidavits. One affidavit features a witness claiming she was offered money to vote, and two are from people who say they overheard voters being offered money. The other affidavits allege crimes or improprieties where there were none. “Realistically, many of the things set out in those affidavits are not crimes,” Barnett says. “They are what I would call local election-board management problems. A fair number could be read as complaints about how effective the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort was. They had people watching, then jumping on the phone to one of their drivers.” Even if all of the allegations were true, Barnett says, the results of the election would not change. The RNC says after Barnett’s statement: “The information that the attorney general reviewed is only one area of the problems reported with the election. This is not just about criminal activity but about how the people of South Dakota carry out their elections. They will have to decide at both the local level and the State Legislature whether changes need to be made to the system.” A spokesperson for Johnson says Thune could stop all of the dissension and allegations if he would speak out against them. Thune is referring all questions about the election to the RNC. Some of the unfounded allegations include: poll workers offering variants of names to voters until a match could be found in voting records; stickers being placed over votes for Thune on ballots to fool voting machines into not counting the votes; and what the Rapid City Journal characterizes as “a high degree of coordination between poll workers in some precincts and workers for the Democratic Party.” Barnett is particularly irritated by Republican complaints that Democrats forced polls in some counties to stay open too long. Some county polls stayed open until 8 p.m. Central Standard Time; because the counties in question are in the Mountain time zone, they were required by law to stay open until 7 p.m. Mountain, which is 8 p.m. Central. “Saying the polls were open too long is not an accurate way to describe it. It was opened too early,” Barnett says. “Several affidavits assume that Democratic operatives are the ones who made it stay open. That’s not accurate. It was Republican officials who made the decision, myself among them.… If you screw up and open at 6, you don’t fix a morning screw-up by doing an evening screw-up. If a voter had walked up to a polling place at 6:30 p.m. and found a padlocked door, we would have had the clearest case of a voter-rights violation that I ever heard of. If statute says you’re open until 7, you’re open until 7.” Barnett says many of the complaints were of the effective Democratic efforts of getting voters to the polls in vans, and of Democrats working on those efforts inside polling places. These are extraordinarily low-level infractions, Barnett says, and are routinely committed by workers of both parties in every election. The RNC has refused to provide copies of the allegations to local reporters (Ross 12/10/2002) but will provide them to Byron York, a reporter for the conservative National Review. York will write an article alleging “massive voter fraud” based on the affidavits (see December 19, 2002). Three days later, Barnett will report that the allegations of “vote buying” are groundless. One of the witnesses on the three affidavits could not be located. The second said his signature had been forged on the affidavit. The third said she signed the affidavit after being pressured by a friend. Barnett says: “These affidavits are either perjury or forgery, or call them what you will. They are just flat false.” (Marshall 12/16/2002)
Joshua Micah Marshall of the influential liberal news blog Talking Points Memo (TPM) writes that charges of “massive voter fraud” that supposedly gave Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) a narrow victory over challenger John Thune (R-SD) are not only spurious, but deliberately “trumped up” by the Republican National Committee (RNC) working with the Thune campaign. Marshall finds the RNC’s allegations of voter fraud being primarily committed on Indian reservations particularly objectionable. The “wild-eyed allegations,” he writes, “were then amplified by a number of local reporters who turned out to be working in embarrassingly close coordination—in one case, cohabiting—with the Republican operatives who ginned up the accusations in the first place.” Marshall calls the allegations a coordinated effort to block Democratic “get out the vote,” or GOTV, efforts, as well as to “stir up politically-helpful racial animosity.” He writes that Thune and the RNC are using advertisements and mailings to accuse Johnson of being personally involved in the purported fraud, and notes that while Thune graciously conceded the election, his campaign operatives fanned out through South Dakota’s reservations collecting affidavits alleging a wide variety of crimes and improprieties. State Attorney General Mark Barnett found the allegations to be entirely groundless (see December 10, 2002). However, the RNC also gave the affidavits to Byron York of the conservative National Review; York is in the process of preparing a lengthy article on the subject (see December 19, 2002). Marshall writes that the only real crimes may have been committed by “RNC operatives caught filing perjurious or forged affidavits to prove their phony case.” (Marshall 12/16/2002) In October, Marshall noted that groundless allegations of absentee ballot fraud were made by a local reporter who lived with a lawyer for the Thune campaign. (Marshall 10/18/2002)
The National Review’s Byron York publishes a detailed article alleging that, in November 2002, Democrats committed massive voter fraud in South Dakota in order to ensure Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) won re-election against opponent John Thune (R-SD). York accuses South Dakota Democrats of using Native American votes to “throw” the election. York reports that Democrats “deployed” 10,000 lawyers nationwide, including the contingent sent to Mission, to ensure that voting rights would be protected. In South Dakota, he writes, “compelling evidence” based on testimony from South Dakota poll workers shows that some of the Democratic lawyers “engaged in illegal electioneering, pressured poll workers to accept questionable ballots, and forced polling places in a heavily Democratic area to stay open for an hour past their previously-announced closing time. In addition, the testimony contains evidence of people being allowed to vote with little or no identification, of incorrectly marked ballots being counted as Democratic votes, of absentee ballots being counted without proper signatures, and, most serious of all, of voters who were paid to cast their ballots for Senator Johnson.” The allegations, if true, would constitute voter fraud on a massive scale. York says the testimony is collected “in more than 40 affidavits collected by Republicans in the days after the election and obtained by National Review,” and supplemented by “interviews with state and local officials.” York alleges that “hundreds of votes” for Johnson “were the product of polling-place misconduct.” Johnson won the election by a few hundred votes. “Had those votes not been added to his total, it seems likely that the senator, who won by just 524 votes, would instead have lost, and John Thune would today be South Dakota’s senator-elect.” (York 12/19/2002)
Allegations False, Says South Dakota Attorney General - South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett, a Republican, has said the most serious of the affidavits are either “perjury or forgery,” and says the allegations of illegality are “flat[ly] false.” Barnett said most of the accusations were not illegal, but simply evidence of effective get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts by Democrats (see December 10, 2002). And liberal news blogger Joshua Micah Marshall wrote that the only verifiable crimes may have been committed by Republicans who fraudulently concocted bogus allegations of voter fraud (see December 16, 2002). (Ross 12/10/2002; Marshall 12/16/2002)
Illegal Operations inside Polling Places? - York recounts accusations from an election board member, Noma Sazama, in Mission, South Dakota, that “out-of-town” Democratic poll watchers tried to “intimidate” her as they coordinated GOTV efforts from a Mission polling place. A Republican poll watcher in Todd County, Ed Assman, recounts a similar story to Sazama’s, of Democratic lawyers from out of town setting up shop inside a polling place, this one in Parmalee; a third witness who refuses to be identified says he saw Democratic poll workers running carpools “out of the polling place.” Holding such operations inside a polling place is illegal under South Dakota law, and South Dakota officials admitted after the election that such operations may have indeed taken place. State election supervisor Chris Nelson told a Todd County reporter, “That type of office operation to conduct a partisan campaign operation should not have been happening at the polling place.”
Allegations of Paying Voters - Assman says he personally watched Democratic poll watchers give cash to van drivers who were transporting voters back and forth from the polls. Another witness, who refuses to be identified, tells York that the watchers gave out “wad[s] of twenties.” That same witness says a Democratic poll watcher later explained the money was for gas. A Republican poll watcher in Mission makes similar allegations. York says that the stories “have raised suspicions that Democrats were perhaps buying more than gasoline,” suspicions that are bolstered by three witnesses in Todd County who say that van drivers offered them cash to vote for Johnson. All three affidavits say that the witnesses were offered $10 to vote, presumably for Johnson. York writes: “None [of the affidavits] explicitly says the voters accepted the money—this would be a confession of a crime—but there is little doubt that they did. And even if they did not, simply offering money for a vote is a crime under South Dakota law, which forbids anyone ‘to pay, lend, contribute, or offer… any money or other valuable consideration’ to anyone for a vote.” In an update to the article, York notes that Barnett has found two of the three affidavits and considers the third “suspect.” Barnett believes the affidavits may be the work of a single man on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, though that man, a registered Democrat, says he knows nothing of the affidavits. The man has told a Sioux Falls reporter that “people on the streets” told him that “they” were paying people with $10 bills or cigarettes to go vote, “and if you couldn’t get there, they would give you a ride.”
Time Discrepancy - Todd County auditor Kathleen Flakus twice published notices in the local press that polls would be open on Election Day, November 2, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST). According to government maps, Todd County is west of the time-zone line that splits South Dakota, placing the county in Mountain Standard Time (MST). The Todd County populace routinely operates on Central time. On Election Day, a Democratic election official named Iver Crow Eagle showed up almost an hour late to one Todd County polling place, forcing that polling place to alter its hours from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. The time change is allowable under state law. However, Democratic poll watchers asked that all the Todd County precincts be allowed to stay open until 8 p.m. Todd County is heavily Democratic, York says, providing a possible motive for the request. The Democratic lawyers also asked that precincts in Mellette County be allowed to stay open until 8 p.m.; like Todd, Mellette is technically in Mountain time but the populace keeps Central time. The lawyers argued that the polls should stay open until 7 p.m. MST, which is 8 p.m. CST. York says Flakus and the “[l]ocal election officials were flabbergasted” by the request. However, state officials found that the Democrats were legally correct, and the precincts stayed open until 8 p.m. CST. Republican officials attempted to force the polls to close at 7 p.m. CST, York reports, calling the extra hour an “unconstitutional” dilution of other counties’ votes, whose citizens cast their votes “during proper hours.” The Republicans also asked that the ballots cast after 7 p.m. CST be segregated from the other ballots in case a judge ruled in favor of the original closing time. A state circuit judge dismissed the requests without comment, and the polls stayed open an extra hour in the two counties. Witnesses later tell York that they saw well over a hundred voters cast their votes during the extra hour. “Given the voting patterns of the area, it’s likely that nearly all of those extra votes were Democratic,” York writes. “[I]t seems reasonable to estimate that the extended voting hours gave Tim Johnson an additional 200 or so votes” in Todd County alone.
Voter Registration Fraud? - Democrats from the state and national party worked to register thousands of new voters during the run-up to the November election, specifically working on Indian reservations. The effort secured some 17,000 new voters, York says. However, he cites a news report that alleged “bounty hunters” were paid ”$3 per head” to register new voters, which he calls “an invitation to fraud.” One Democratic volunteer, Becky Red Earth Villeda, made almost $13,000 from registering new voters. Before the election, state prosecutors said that 15 “phony ballots,” in York’s words, were “associated with Villeda.” The prosecutors were investigating 1,700 others and were considering filing charges against her. South Dakota Deputy Attorney General Larry Long told reporters: “It appears that we were able to get her stopped before she actually cast any fraudulent ballots. But it’s conceivable that she was able to get ballots cast that we don’t know about.” York says that at least three absentee ballot requests—not ballots—from the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, in Dewey County, may have also been fraudulent. A witness at a Dewey County polling place later alleges that he saw “15 or 20” people come to vote, only to find that records indicated they had requested absentee ballots when they said they had not made such requests. One of those voters told election officials that the signature on the ballot request was not his. At another precinct, another witness says the same thing happened with ten voters, and a third witness says a similar occurrence happened to seven voters at another Dewey County precinct. York says it is “reasonable” to presume that many other occurrences took place, and many improper absentee ballots may have been cast. Sazama tells York that she saw ballots cast at her Todd County precinct that “didn’t look right.” She says she saw several signatures that appeared to match the voters’ signatures, but they “all looked like they had been signed by the same person.” Those votes were counted. York says that along with the “suspicious” absentee ballot issues, “there were widespread problems with voter identification,” including a number of instances where voters presented themselves to an election judge, found that their given names were not listed, and were given the opportunity to vote under what a Republican witness in Mellette County calls “alternate names.” Another unnamed observer says similar instances happened at a polling place in Shannon County, home of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. And Assman says he saw similar instances in Todd County. York says that Democratic lawyers at polling places “pressured election officials to allow people to vote, whatever the problem with names,” and quotes an unnamed Republican election official as saying the lawyers “intimidated” local officials.
Vote Surge Gives Johnson the Victory, Votes May Be 'Improper' - York writes that the voting improprieties may be the reason why Thune maintained a narrow lead in vote counts throughout the evening of November 2, until late in the vote counting, when Thune led by almost 1,000 votes with only six precincts remaining. Five precincts in Shannon County gave Johnson the victory, York says, coming in at an “unusual” 91.4 percent of votes cast going to Johnson. Shannon County is an “overwhelmingly Democratic area,” York concedes, but alleges that many of the Shannon County ballots had “significant problems” that caused them to be rejected by the optical scan machines counting the votes and processed by a resolution committee. The problems with the optically scanned votes caused the Shannon County votes to be among the last reported. Later, a Republican member of the resolution committee named Lee Linehan says she may have inadvertently let “improper” votes go through, due to her exhaustion and unfamiliarity with the process. York implies that her Democratic committee partner, whom he only identifies as “a lawyer,” may have influenced her to send ballots through regardless of their possible improprieties. Linehan tells York, “I believe the race would have been much closer had we paid more attention.”
Conclusion - York alleges that, in conclusion, Johnson and “an army” of Democratic lawyers improperly threw the election for Johnson. “[T]he accounts of dozens of eyewitnesses at the polling places,” he writes, suggests “the electoral system was not fully trustworthy and in fact failed to stop serious violations of election laws committed by Johnson’s supporters.” The small number of votes in one county after another—200 in Todd, 250 in Shannon, 100 in Dewey, and around 200 in other counties—may have given Johnson the edge he needed to claim a narrow victory. York writes, “[I]t seems reasonable to conclude that, had Democratic misconduct not occurred in those counties, John Thune would have won.” Thune chose not to ask for a recount, as was his right under South Dakota law. York explains that Thune did not wish to put the state’s voters under what Thune called a “long, drawn-out, painful, and protracted struggle over 524 votes.” York goes on to note that Thune dropped broad hints that he felt improprieties cost him the election. Some of the problems were most likely “homegrown,” York says, and cites what he calls previous “allegations of voting irregularities on some of the reservations, particularly in tribal elections.” However, the improprieties that he says cost Thune the election “went far beyond local fraud, and are instead attributable to the team of party operatives sent to South Dakota from the DNC’s headquarters in Washington.” York says the local Republican officials should have been prepared for just such problems, citing Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Terry McAuliffe’s promise that lawyers would be at polls in every state, and implying that McAuliffe and the DNC concocted a scheme to steal elections throughout the nation through the auspices of this “army” of lawyers. “[T]he evidence from South Dakota suggests that some of them were on the lookout to commit voter fraud,” he writes, “to steal the election under the guise of preventing it from being stolen.” York concludes that the Democrats’ success in South Dakota will only encourage them to try even harder to steal elections in future elections. (York 12/19/2002)
Purged - The National Review will later purge the York article from its database.
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