PIERRE, S.D. - What started out as an attempt to catch the Democrats at voter fraud on South Dakota Indian reservations has backfired on the Republican National Committee.
Republican attorneys fanned out across the state on Election Day Nov. 6 to gather affidavits to show voting irregularities. Now the most serious of those affidavits have been found to be fraudulent themselves.
State Attorney General Mark Barnett, himself a Republican, said of the 50 affidavits the Republican operatives collected, only three alleged criminal activity, and two of those proved to be false. One person is still being sought for questioning.
He said some of the rest of the affidavits were signed with false signatures and others were based on routine questions that come up every election cycle.
Barnett said two of the affidavits were either forgery or perjury because they contained the same wording. "They are just flat false," he said.
In the latest development, David Norcross, a former general counsel for the Republican National Committee and director of the Republican effort, admitted that his group had drawn up stock affidavits with blanks for the signature and then went looking for people to sign them.
According to a Dec. 23 Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus-Leader story, "Kim Vanneman, the chairwoman of the Tripp County Republicans and a notary public, went door to door in Mission and secured the three signatures of people who said they were offered money in that situation."
The trouble is that two of those three now deny the story, and the third cannot be located.
The revelation is highly embarrassing, both for the Republican National Committee and the "old-right" opinion magazine National Review, which devoted its Dec. 23 cover story to an expose based entirely on the Republican collection of affidavits.
Barnett denounced the National Review story by Byron York as "shoddy, irresponsible, sensationalistic and garbage."
National Review acknowledged the quote in posting the story on its website but retorted, "Barnett made that statement without investigating most of the allegations in the article."
Barnett earlier told South Dakota reporters that only three of the allegations indicated "serious legal violation," the three that are now in question. He characterized the others as "the problems that we see in every election."
The Republican Nation Committee would not release the affidavits to the media in South Dakota, but released them to the National Review, Barnett said. He added that the media had the affidavits before he did.
Barnett earlier also announced the indictment of one Democratic campaign worker Becky Red Earth-Villeda, also known by her Dakota name Maka Duta, on 19 counts of forgery in violation of state election laws. She worked briefly for the Democratic Party to register voters. She is accused of falsifying applications for absentee ballots. Each charge could carry a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
Each affidavit on vote-buying states that the person allegedly signing it claimed to have been picked up by a van driver, offered $10 to vote, taken to the polling place and home again and again offered the $10. One person who supposedly swore to that statement, JoLynn Sleeping Bear, was questioned by the state authorities and said she had not voted and was not offered any money, Barnett said.
Quentin Charging Elk, whose name also appeared on an affidavit, said he had not voted nor was he offered any money.
Most of the allegations focused on Mission, S.D. on the Rosebud Reservation.
Another name on an affidavit, Naomi Hawkman, did vote, but had not been found by the authorities. Barnett said Hawkman's name was formerly Charging Elk, a name he said was the common element in the affidavits.
Ed Charging Elk told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that Sleeping Bear was an honest person and she may have misunderstood something he told her about talk on the street of getting $10 to vote, gas money or a free ride.
He said he had heard those rumors and to some people it made good sense.
He also said he was quite upset over the aggressive manner in which the Democratic Party was soliciting voter registration, that he had called John Thune's office, but got no response.
Rep. John Thune challenged Sen. Tim Johnson in a very hotly contested race. Johnson won by 524 votes, and voters from Indian country have been credited with reelecting Johnson.
Before the election, voter fraud allegations were flying freely amongst the media, locally and nationally, but only two people were arrested and no tampering with actual ballots was discovered, Barnett said.
In addition to the case of Red Earth-Velleda (Maka Duta), Lyle Duane Nichols was charged in Pennington County of forging voter-registration cards. He worked under contract with the voter registration arm of the United Sioux Tribes. Nichols and Red Earth-Villeda both were paid for each registration card they submitted.
Thune continues to maintain that the issue is not up to him to solve, but up to the state officials. He chose not to challenge the election and ask for a recount that would have taken time and probably would not have changed the outcome of the election.
In a recent statement on remarks by U. S. Sen. Trent Lott, R.-Miss. that appeared to endorse segregation, Johnson equated the Washington flap to the Republican National Committee charges. "Senator Lott's remarks only served to divide Americans," said Johnson, "just as some of the actions by Republican attorneys from Washington divided people in South Dakota with claims of voter fraud by Native Americans, claims that have been ruled, to be fraudulent."
All allegations of voter fraud have come at the expense of American Indian voter registrants and an aggressive campaign on the nine reservations in the state to get-out-the-vote.
The state legislature will take up the issue of voter registration in the next session, beginning in January. The state is already under the microscope for passing voter laws that were not approved by the federal Department of Justice. As the result of a suit by the state American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the state entered into an agreement that would send some 300 voter laws to be scrutinized by the Department of Justice.
State legislators have already suggested changes in the laws that allow payment for collecting registration cards and called for a return to a previous law that required a notary public sign each card.
State Sen. Eric Bogue, R-Dupree, the new Republican leader in the senate, said that the issue most assuredly would come up in the next legislative session. Minority Leader of the Senate, Garry Moore, D-Yankton said he would support legislation that brought back notary public validation. But such a law might make it more difficult for American Indians to register to vote. It is a problem always to find a notary public on the reservations. Voters living in Pine Ridge have to travel 60 miles to Hot Springs, the county seat for Fall River County that handles all of Shannon County's affairs. Shannon County is on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
In the past voter registration booths had a notary public present.