n what some observers called an uncharacteristically harsh response to his critics, South Dakota attorney general Mark Barnett on Friday denounced a National Review account of voting irregularities in his state as "shoddy and irresponsible and sensationalistic and garbage."Barnett made the statements during a news conference in which he announced that his investigators have determined that two of the more than 40 affidavits collected by Republicans in the days after the election are false. The affidavits are from two people who said that the driver of a "Tim Johnson for Senate" van offered them $10 to vote. Barnett said his investigators had interviewed the two people whose names were on the affidavits, and they said they were in fact not offered money to vote. Barnett said a third affidavit, making the same claim, was "suspect," although he offered no evidence to support that assertion.
In a discussion with reporters, Barnett also suggested there was no other significant evidence of improprieties in the remaining 40 affidavits; according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, he "discounted all but the offers of money as local issues or evidence of the Democrats' get-out-the-vote efforts." Democrats quickly cited his findings as proof that allegations of election irregularities in Sen. Tim Johnson's 524-vote victory over Republican challenger John Thune are baseless.
But in fact the two now-discredited vote-buying allegations were just a small part of a long list of improprieties described not only in the other affidavits but also in extensive interviews with workers from both parties who were at the polls on Election Day. In addition, National Review's calculation that Johnson "may have benefited from hundreds of votes that were the product of polling-place misconduct" did not rely on the vote-buying allegations at all. Indeed, contrary to Barnett's assertion, the great majority of the known problems with the election had nothing to do with charges of vote buying. Among them:
Questionable absentee ballots. County election boards were required to
check the signature on an absentee ballot against the signature on the
ballot request, and to count the vote only if the two matched. In Todd
County, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, one Republican poll watcher
reported a number of ballots in which "the signatures compared, but
they looked like all the same handwriting." The poll watcher told
National Review that the votes "all looked like they had been
signed by the same person, but the signatures compared, so they were counted."
Questionable voter identifications. According to the testimony of several witnesses, several polling-place officials on the reservations used extraordinarily lenient standards to determine the names of people who arrived to vote. South Dakota law does not require a voter to present identification or to sign a list when he votes. In the affidavits there are descriptions of a number of incidents similar to this one, written by a GOP poll watcher in Mellette County:
That account is supported by similar accounts from Todd County and Shannon County, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Questionable electioneering. A number of election workers told National Review that on Election Day, Democratic lawyers who had come to South Dakota from Washington, New York, California, and other party strongholds, set up get-out-the-vote operations, complete with files and phones, inside polling places. That appears to violate Title 12-18-3 of the South Dakota code, which states that "No person may, in any polling place or within or on any building in which a polling place is located or within one hundred feet from any entrance leading into a polling place, maintain an office or communications center..." On November 13, Chris Nelson, the state election supervisor (and newly elected secretary of state) told a local paper, the Todd County Tribune, that, "That type of office operation to conduct a partisan campaign operation should not have been happening at the polling place."
In addition to those questionable practices, interviews with election workers suggest there were significant problems with ballots in Shannon County, where hundreds of ballots were rejected by optical-scanner counting machines. There was also considerable controversy when state officials, acting on the urging of Democratic lawyers, ordered polling places in heavily Democratic Todd County to stay open one hour past their announced closing time. And finally, there is the testimony of two GOP election workers who saw out-of-state Democratic poll watchers give what appeared to be large sums of cash to get-out-the-vote van drivers in Todd County for purposes that are not entirely clear; neither of those men has been contacted by the attorney general's office.
All these issues discussed at length in National Review suggest that there are substantial areas of inquiry beyond the two vote-buying affidavits which Barnett says are false. Perhaps Barnett does not think the problems are significant. Perhaps he does not think they fall under the jurisdiction of his office. Perhaps he simply wishes they would all go away; on Friday he angrily suggested that National Review "better start backpedaling." But the problems with South Dakota's election are real and important, and it is likely they will be in the news for some time to come.