WASHINGTON - As people take a second look at the furor over voting fraud in South Dakota, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. has accused Republicans of attempting to suppress voting by Indians and the state attorney general, a Republican, has said that his investigation has not turned up any illegally cast ballots.
South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett said Oct. 30 that federal and state investigators had found 15 applications for absentee ballots with apparently forged signatures. He traced them to one independent contractor for the Democratic Party voter drive, Becky Red-Earth Villeda of Flandreau, also known by her Dakota name Maka Duta. None of the applications resulted in ballots that were fraudulently voted, he said, but he added that she might still face charges.after the election, "or possibly sooner."
Red Earth-Villeda admitted duplicating signatures on forms in what she said was a mix-up on how to file the applications. "If I erred in doing so, I pray that Attorney General Barnett will agree with me that I erred on the side of angels," she said in a written statement.
Barnett's statement put some perspective on a so-called scandal that earlier was widely publicized in national media. Much of the early information sent to reporters has been traced to a lawyer involved in Republican politics.
Accounts vary as to how large or how widespread the alleged voter fraud is in South Dakota, but most of the investigation done by the FBI is on or near counties where Indian reservations are located. One person has been arrested for turning in invalid voter registration cards and another, Red Earth-Villeda, was fired as a contract employee for the Democratic Party for turning in invalid absentee ballot applications. The arrested person was not associated with either political party.
Some 400 registration cards and absentee ballot applications were under scrutiny. The state, according to county auditors, has in excess of new registered voters, more than during any other election. Of the 16,700 new voter registrations turned in to county auditors only 400 have been questioned.
Republican Secretary of State Joyce Hazeltine said that the county auditors performed their duties properly and the system is intact. She added that so far indications were that the election was not at risk, and she also implied that there was no massive voter fraud.
Senator Tim Johnson, D-S.D. and Rep. John Thune, R-S.D. are deadlocked for Johnson's senate seat. Democrats allege that Republicans have fed the media misleading information concerning the extent of the alleged voter fraud on and near Indian reservations.
"In my state of South Dakota, we are now seeing a concerted Republican effort to make allegations and launch initiatives intended to suppress Native American voting. These efforts appear to be motivated more by partisan politics than a concern with clean elections," Daschle said.
At some locations where Senator Johnson has appeared for campaign meetings protestors carried signs that said "Voter Fraud is a Felony."
Some of the hype has been traced to Sioux Falls attorney John Lauck who works for the Thune campaign. Lauck is listed as chairman of the Lawyers for Thune campaign. He has a biography on the Republican National Lawyers Association web site. Public records have shown that Lauck was paid travel money by the Republican Party to scour the offices of the County Auditors to find questionable American Indian registration cards and applications and then distribute them to the news media.
Some broadcast media were provided with large stacks of material indicating fraud on reservations. The information came from Lauck. One Sioux Falls television station apologized for broadcasting unverifiable information and pulled a lead reporter off the fraud story. Another television anchor who also presented the same information, Shelley Keohane, is Lauck's roommate, according to public record.
Editorials across South Dakota have tried to put some perspective on the voter fraud allegations. An editor of the "Tea and Harrisburg Spokesman" wrote: "As everyone knows, FBI agents are not the most beloved people on the reservations. Now, the FBI, DCI and CNN will be swarming the place until after Election Day. There will be poll watchers at every precinct. Voter signatures will be checked and double-checked."
In South Dakota, the Democratic Party has engaged in an all-out campaign to register as many Indian residents on reservations as possible.
On the Pine Ridge Reservation, Shannon County, registration was brisk and the county auditor sent more than 100 registration cards to be investigated. Some addresses were incorrect, birth dates were not accurate, signatures looked similar and some cards were returned with an incomplete address. In addition, one person in Dewey County was accused of turning in four absentee ballot applications that were suspect, but two were found to be okay. The other two had mistakes. One person was registered in two separate counties, both on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
Daschle also said that the Democratic Party would do all possible to defend the rights of Indians and other targeted minorities to vote.
"In every generation, we have tried to tear down barriers to full participation in the life of this nation. There is one means of participation that forms the foundation of every other: the right to vote. We will do whatever is necessary to make sure that on Nov. 5, all Americans can vote freely and without intimidation."
"The right to vote is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. I am deeply disturbed by the concerted Republican effort to make allegations and launch initiatives intended to suppress Native American voting. These efforts appear to be motivated more by partisan politics than a concern with clean elections, and all South Dakotans know that is wrong," Daschle said.