RAPID CITY, S.D. - A fund-raising letter to the GOP faithful has dredged up
voter irregularities in the state that many thought had been set straight.
The letter from Randy Frederick, South Dakota GOP chairman, referenced
irregularities in the 2002 election that some claim stole a senate seat
away from the Rep. John Thune.
"We must do everything we can in these last nine and a half weeks to get
our supporters to the polls on election day ... and prevent the voter
irregularities that stole the 2002 election from us by 524 votes,"
That sentence dredged up unpleasant memories of perceived intimidation
toward American Indian voters who were conducting active Get Out The Vote
Immediately the Democratic Party and Sen. Tom Daschle issued a statement
that said the Republicans and John Thune were turning away from Indian
country with such a statement.
The fundraiser was to help Republican John Thune's campaign against Sen.
Daschle. The Republican Party was cited as the source of many accusations
after the 2002 election over voter fraud. Democratic Sen. Johnson retained
his seat by 524 votes over Thune.
Frederick said there was no reference in the letter to American Indian
reservations, and he is right.
"Did I ever say on Indian reservations? Some of the things prosecuted were
not on Indian reservations. Daschle's people are trying to bring up racial
issues - I'm not," Frederick said.
Daschle and Thune are now in a dead-heat race for Daschle's senate seat.
Indian country votes are credited with keeping Sen. Tim Johnson in the
senate by 524 votes over Thune in 2002 and both parties are campaigning
actively in Indian country. In 2002 one person was prosecuted for forging
registration cards, another person had charges dropped for similar
activities, both are American Indians.
"These trumped-up allegations have been proven false by the Republican
attorney general and the Republican secretary of state. This is nothing
more than an attempt to divide South Dakotans to help elect John Thune.
"The record turnout in Indian country is something to be applauded, not
attacked," said Dan Pfeiffer, Daschle's deputy campaign manager.
Frederick said he was not attacking Indian country, nor any race. That, he
said, was racist in itself. "I can't emphasize that more. Daschle is
causing the division," he said.
Thune said he had not been aware of the letter and also that he doesn't
believe the 2002 election was stolen. The letter did not originate with the
Thune campaign, but with the South Dakota Republican party.
"Republicans attempted to use these false allegations to raise campaign
money and now they are exposed they are backtracking," said Nick Papas,
Daschle's campaign press secretary.
"Thune's close associates have been talking about these allegations for two
years. For Randy to refer to other irregularities is absurd, he knows it
and everyone in Indian country knows it," Papas said.
"No reasonable person would assume he would conclude that Mr. Frederick was
referring to irregularities outside of Indian country," Papas said.
The accusation of improper balloting on reservations or in other locations
was denied by the then Republican Attorney General Mark Barnett and by the
Secretary of State. They found no evidence of ballot tampering. Most of the
past accusations occurred with voter registration card irregularities and
erroneous absentee ballot applications.
Frederick, however, continues to argue that voter fraud at the polls was
widespread, yet not reported.
"Irregularities occurred in the election process. I have no proof. No
proof, but with backup. I received phone calls from people who said they
witnessed this in Rapid City where people were accompanied to the ballot
box, where people ... I don't want to get certain people in trouble, there
could be retribution against them," Frederick said. He did not elaborate on
what he considered to be trouble or retribution during an interview with
Indian Country Today.
He said many phone calls came from across the state, some said there was
campaign literature in the polling locations and also left in the polling
booths. He also said none of that was reported to the authorities.
"The essence of what was said was right there, if there is any division and
desire to create division it is coming from the Daschle campaign,"
The brief sentence about a stolen election did not go unnoticed in Indian
country. President Charles Colombe of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe has called
for Frederick's resignation.
"State GOP Chairman Randy Frederick's race-baiting, hate-inciting call to
arms to prevent voter irregularities and a stolen election is an insult to
every South Dakotan, every Republican, and to every decent, voting Native
American," Colombe said.
"I speak as the President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe; as an active donor to
the Republican Party; and as an independent voting citizen of South Dakota
in requesting that Randy Frederick resign from his position as South Dakota
GOP chairman," Colombe said.
"Frederick's use of age-old, racial animosity to gain funds for the
Republican Party leaps over the boundaries of political propriety. He has
proven his judgment and decorum are beneath his position as South Dakota
GOP chair," he said.
Frederick defended his position and said he issued the strongest statement
against Conservative TV commentator and columnist Robert Novak. Novak made
statements in January 2004 on CNN; he said Thune would have defeated
Johnson had the ballot boxes on Indian reservations not been stuffed.
Frederick called Novak's comments "appalling and "insane," at the time.
"There were problems, but they were attributable to one individual," he
That's what Frederick said in January. In September 2004 he more strongly
stated that irregularities occurred and went further to imply that fraud
took place at the polling place.
Frederick did say voter turnout on the reservations is good for everyone.
"Daschle is trying to paint the Republicans as the enemy and put words in
our mouths, saying things we never said," Frederick said.
He also made time to criticize Daschle, who has been in office for 25 years
of not helping situations on reservations. "Are things better or worse with
Daschle? He has a record he must defend," Frederick said.
Papas said Daschle had a long record of bringing South Dakotans together.
He was coordinator of a day of reconciliation held in 2003 to bring people
together to share diversity.
"Daschle has a long record of accomplishment for the Native American
community. He works tirelessly for health care. When he introduced an
amendment to improve the budget for health care, every Republican opposed
his proposal," Papas said.
Both political parties have a presence on the reservations. The Democrats
have offices on most reservations and are active in registering voters. The
Republican Party has increased its presence, however, does not have actual
offices on any of the reservations. Jason Glodt, GOP executive director,
said there are people in the field and that the Republicans are having an
impact on many of the voters in Indian country. Political operatives have
always considered the majority of Indian country to be Democratic Party
territory. A Republican campaign using T-shirts that say "It's time for a
change - vote Republican," have appeared on some of the reservations.