Skip to comments.Resource: News on South Dakota Vote Fraud
Posted on 10/24/2002 6:36:24 AM PDT by Republican_Strategist
SD, Oct. 23 - The South Dakota Democratic Party rejected the Republican Party's offer to jointly request federal election monitors in South Dakota on November fifth.
IN RESPONSE the Republican Party sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft Wednesday requesting monitors without the other parties support. The request comes on the heels of voter fraud and voter registration forgery allegations.
The Democratic Party has said the state has conducted fair elections for many years and will do so this year as well.
Fall River County experiences voter registration fraud
Fall River County, SD, Oct. 23 - There is more suspected voter registration fraud, this time in Fall River County.
A SECRETARY IN the Fall River County state's attorney's office and another local woman both received voter registration cancellation notices in the mail this week. Neither woman had changed her address or her party affiliation.
The secretary, Lynn Putnam a Republican, had been registered as a Democrat in Codington County in July under an address for a couple who has lived in the community for years. The other, also a Republican, was registered as a Democrat in Minnehaha County.
Lance Russel, the Fall River County State's Attorney says this should act as a notice to county auditors that the potential for absentee voter fraud is great. He says since these women were registered in a different county than the one they live, the chances of an auditor catching the discrepancy is not high.
Both cards were filled out with plenty of opportunity for a person to request an absentee ballot.
Familiar name raised suspicion
RAPID CITY - When a Rapid City man allegedly forged names on voter-registration cards in Pennington County, his first mistake was selecting names of people that the county auditor recognized.
Pennington County Auditor Julie Pearson said she questioned a card made out for Rick Hockley, a Rapid Valley man who ran for Pennington County Commission two years ago. The card, however, was listed as Ricky Joy Hockley a combination of the phone-book listing for Hockley and his wife, Joy. The card listed the correct address, but the date of birth and signature were not Hockley's.
Hockley responded immediately to investigators from the Pennington County Sheriff's Office. He signed the necessary affidavit that led to the arrest of Lyle Duane Nichols.
Nichols is charged with five counts of forgery.
"I think we need to adjust the way we do the voter registration. At one time, you had to have the cards notarized or provide a driver's license or identification-card number," Hockley said Tuesday. "That kind of validation would eliminate the problem."
That is part of federal legislation recently approved for future elections, Pearson said. It comes too late to affect the Nov. 5 general election.
Hockley is also concerned because he said fraudulent registration is part of an effort to register more American Indians to be part of the election process.
"It defeats the purpose of what the program was set up for in the first place," Hockley said. "It puts everyone's ballot in question. The only person who gains is using it inappropriately and is getting paid for it."
Nichols was employed as a consultant for the United Sioux Tribes Voter Education and Registration Committee but was fired after the irregularities were discovered. Nichols is alleged to have used names obtained from the phone book or the newspaper to complete the cards.
Nichols received $756 for the cards he turned in, but 25 percent of that income goes back to Pennington County, Toby Karn, a Pennington County assistant state's attorney, said. That's because Nichols was serving time in the county's jail work-release program, which requires 25 percent of the inmate's salary go to the county to cover room and board costs.
Mary Janis, West River coordinator for the voter-registration project, assisted Pennington County officials by providing a list of names registered by Nichols and another person. Nichols' list includes at least six dead people, Karn said Tuesday.
Although 238 of the registrations were verified as valid, most of them by a second person registering voters, the names were pulled from the county voter polls. On election day, their names will need to be verified again, and the voters will need to provide identification at the polls before they will be allowed to vote, Pearson said.
Lawmakers condemn registration 'bounties'
Two state legislative leaders called on the South Dakota Democratic Party on Monday to end the practice of paying independent contractors to register voters.
The so-called "bounties" - under which a person is paid a set amount for each completed registration and absentee ballot application - has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, particularly in and around the state's Native American reservations.
Federal authorities are investigating the work of one former contractor for the Democratic Party who allegedly filed registrations for people who don't exist or are dead. And a Rapid City man, who was working under a separate program run by the United Sioux Tribes, has been charged with five counts of forgery.
Democrats say Republicans are exaggerating the extent of the problem and trying to discredit their efforts to enlist new voters with two weeks left until the Nov. 5 elections.
Attorney General Mark Barnett, a Republican, has said the investigation centers on the work of a fired contractor, Becky Red Earth-Villeda, also known by her Dakota name, Maka Duta.
State Senate Majority Leader Barb Everist and state House Majority Leader Bill Peterson, both Republicans, said during a press conference in Sioux Falls on Monday that paying people to canvass for new voters is a recipe for fraud.
"Evidence continues to grow, and we are concerned that we are only on the tip of the iceberg," Peterson said. "This problem is too widespread to have one person act on their own."
An Argus Leader survey of all 66 county auditors in South Dakota found that nearly 400 questionable documents have been turned over to local law enforcement. More than three-fourths of those documents - 338 - came from Pennington and Shannon counties.
Republicans have alleged that Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson's campaign - facing a strong challenge from Rep. John Thune in one of the closest Senate races in the country - is involved in the scandal.
The problem centers around "the South Dakota Democratic Party and Senator Tim Johnson offering bounties for votes," Peterson said.
But neither Everist or Peterson could produce any proof of a connection between the Johnson campaign and the registration drive in question.
Democratic officials have cooperated in the investigation, and the party is not implicated, said Barnett.
"I'm still only aware of two cases where criminal law may have been violated, and you've heard about those," Barnett said last week. "I just don't want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don't have any evidence of that."
Johnson referred questions about the registration and absentee ballot drive to the Democratic Party. But he responded to continued inferences of "massive" misdeeds related to the effort.
"It strikes me as transparent and outrageous that they would continue to say that when there is only one person with two irregular absentee ballots to my knowledge," Johnson said.
Republicans are off base for their criticism, said Sarah Feinberg, spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party.
Paying workers to sign up voters is a common practice in many states preceding elections, she said.
To single out Democrats in South Dakota because workers are registering Native Americans is unfair, she said.
"We are incredibly proud of our program, making every effort to open offices on the reservation, work with the community, register every eligible voter, assist them," she said. "Republicans don't have one office on the reservation, and they actually seem proud of it. That fact is pretty painful."
The Republican leaders also said there is a Democratic money trail not just to Red Earth-Villeda, but Lyle Nichols, the Rapid City man charged with forgery.
Nichols worked for the United Sioux Tribes, and the state Democratic Party paid that organization $2,517 for registration activity, said Peterson.
But Feinberg said the money was paid to the group for travel expenses for several people to come to a training session in Chamberlain, not for registrations.
Peterson and Everist also asked for a total number of employees looking for registrations and the amount of money paid out by the Democratic Party.
"We are not going to do the Republican Party's work for them. They can go into our (Federal Election Commission) reports and track the information. That is part of our campaign strategy," Feinberg said.
Continuing Republican efforts to hold press conferences and issue news releases are no more than an effort to suppress the vote, she said.
Everist disagreed on the perceived motive.
"The last thing the Republican Party wants to do is discourage anyone from voting," she said.
Voter fraud charges mar Senate race
FT. THOMPSON, S.D. -- No one can readily recall the last time a politician paid a visit here to the dry, remote plains of the Crow Creek Indian Reservation.
So a few months back when the state Democratic Party opened a voter registration office in the front room of the community center and distributed campaign leaflets at Lynn's corner grocery, it didn't go unnoticed. Soon after, children walked door-to-door along the winding rows of paint-deprived houses, asking residents if they had signed up to vote.
"They told us to vote Democrat," one woman bluntly declared, standing outside her home on a recent fall afternoon. "We don't vote Republican here."
That's precisely what the Democratic Party is banking on in South Dakota, an unlikely nexus in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
There are few places in America that Democrats are more eager to win on Nov. 5 than across the dusty, wind-swept prairie that is home to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. It's Daschle's protege, Sen. Tim Johnson, whose name appears on the ballot, but the White House and conservative interest groups nationwide have taken a keen interest in the race, knowing that if Johnson is unseated, Daschle could lose his narrow hold on the Senate.
But two weeks before Election Day, the aggressive effort to register Native American voters from nine Indian reservations across South Dakota is the subject of a criminal investigation that could throw the results of this too-close-too-call campaign into doubt. The race between Johnson and Republican Rep. John Thune, the state's lone congressman, is expected to hinge on only a few thousand votes, and talk is already circulating of a possible court challenge.
Suspicion of fraud
An early sign of trouble came after election workers received a voter registration card dated Sept. 21 from a woman named Denise Red Horse. But at the Ziebach County auditor's office in Eagle Butte, where little is kept secret among the town's 489 residents, officials immediately suspected fraud: Red Horse had died in a car accident 18 days earlier.
Republicans, long worried about the political effect of the drive to register Indian voters, charged that Democrats had gone too far in their mission to build voting rolls. Democrats, though, say they had already alerted state authorities and fired an independent contractor who handled the suspect registrations.
The controversy dominated the political discussion last week and exposed long-held rifts between South Dakota's white residents and Native Americans living on reservations. Some Democrats suspected Republicans were merely trying to rally their supporters by suggesting Indian voters might influence the election.
"Whether this is a strategy of my opponent to discourage Native American voting or to energize the anti-Indian sentiment, I can't speak to that," Johnson said in a weekend interview. "Others will have to draw their own conclusions."
When the first-term senator returned from Washington late last week for the final stretch of his campaign, he was greeted by protesters outside a chili supper in downtown Sioux Falls. One college student held a sign declaring, "Tim Johnson exploits American Indians." A girl held another sign that read: "Dead people can't vote!"
The next day, the demonstrators didn't follow the senator to a pancake breakfast in Lennox or a barbecue in Mitchell. Even so, Johnson conceded: "It's a bit of a distraction at this point."
Tapping political potential
In a conservative state where Republicans boast of 48,000 more registered voters than their rivals, the Democratic Party has long been working to tap the political potential on Indian reservations. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee has trumpeted recruitment efforts among tribes, but the South Dakota Democratic Party was backing way from assertions that aggressive voter drives for Native Americans were a key piece of their strategy.
"It's a complicated Third World down here, but the Indian people need a lot of help," said Wally Thigh, a security guard who lives on the Crow Creek reservation. "If the people would all register to vote, we would have a loud voice."
Since the June primary, officials say, statewide voter registration has grown by more than 16,700 people. Nearly one-fourth of the new voters came from counties on or near Indian reservations.
When Buffalo County Auditor Elaine Wulff opened the morning mail one day last week, she said she discovered 200 applications for absentee ballots from the town of Ft. Thompson, population 1,375. She reported her findings to the sheriff.
"I can't imagine 200 people being out of Ft. Thompson on the same day," Wulff said from her office in nearby Gann Valley. "State law says you need a reason not to vote at the polls. To me, it was suspicious."
U.S. Atty. James McMahon and the state attorney general said they were collecting reports of voter fraud in several South Dakota counties. The federal government holds jurisdiction over Indian reservations, and agents have been dispatched to investigate, even as the countdown to the election ticks away.
"I am not unmindful of the election date approaching," McMahon said. "It's certainly a priority of my office and the FBI."
Never in recent South Dakota history have voters seen so many competitive political races in one year. In addition to the Senate race, the campaigns for Congress, governor and the state Legislature could be affected by allegations of voting fraud.
The Democratic Party said the incidents appear to be isolated, with a handful of apparent bogus registrations in a few counties. Questions about the integrity of the voting system were renewed late last week when a 45-year-old Rapid City man was arrested on suspicion of submitting fraudulent voter forms he compiled from names in the telephone book. Authorities said the man, working for the Native American Voter Registration Project, was paid $3 for each form he submitted.
Ballot box `sacred'
"There's nothing more sacred than a ballot box, and no one should screw with it," Gov. Bill Janklow, who is seeking the state's seat in the House, fumed in a debate last week. "It has the potential to tip the margin."
During his four terms as governor, Janklow has often been deeply at odds with South Dakota's Indian leaders. A boost in Indian voters could benefit Stephanie Herseth, 31, his Democratic challenger, who has actively sought support from voters living on reservations and is viewed by Republicans as one of several threats to the GOP losing its six-seat majority in the House.
"It has always been recognized that a mobilization of the Native American voting population could have a significant impact on the balance of voting in the state," said Bill Richardson, chairman of the political science department at the University of South Dakota. "Normally, you're not running a nationally significant race. We can shift the balance of power in the federal government."
The South Dakota political debate underscores the notion that pivotal races across the country are more likely to hinge on local issues than sweeping national concerns. While the sagging economy and potential conflict with Iraq are on voters' minds, many said in interviews that more pressing matters are drought relief to farmers and ranchers and the long-standing concern about the flow of the Missouri River.
Those subjects have been the focus of a 10-month barrage of television advertisements. Voters have seen an average of 800 political commercials since January, which has exasperated Geri Monson and virtually every other voter she knows.
"You kind of start wondering what's true and what isn't true," said Monson, a Republican who visited a weekend Johnson campaign pancake breakfast. "It's too bad there's so much negativity and so much back-and-forth. I'd rather hear the positive approach, kind of like blowing their own horn."
The Thune campaign, which has pledged to air only positive television ads in the final two weeks of the campaign, has been quick to pass along developments in the voter fraud case. While Thune doesn't buy into the theory that all Native Americans are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate, he said his campaign chose to not target voters on Indian reservations.
"I spent a lot of time playing amateur basketball out on the reservations, I think I have support out there," Thune said in an interview. "But what we try to do is turn out people who we know will be John Thune supporters."
In a state buried in political signs, highway billboards and bumper stickers, an afternoon drive through Ft. Thompson reveals not a single visible piece of Republican paraphernalia.
Instead, the most noticeable message hangs in the foyer of the Lode Star Casino, where residents and visitors play slot machines with neon-lit titles like "American Pride" and "Red, White and Blue."
"When Joe Medicine Crow was born, he didn't have the right to vote," says the colorful poster, featuring the picture of a respected tribal elder and a logo from the Democratic National Committee. "Is your family registered to vote?"
Man accused of voter registration fraud makes court appearance
RAPID CITY -- A Rapid City man who allegedly falsified voter registration cards while serving in Pennington County's jail inmate work-release program made his first appearance in county Magistrate Court Monday on forgery charges.
Lyle Duane Nichols, 54, is charged with five counts of forgery, each punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
According to Pennington County Sheriff Don Holloway, Nichols was arrested Friday after the Pennington County Auditor's Office found name and birthdate inaccuracies in two registration cards allegedly turned in by Nichols.
Holloway said more than 230 registrations were pulled from county voter rolls because of accuracy concerns.
Nichols was employed as a consultant for the United Sioux Tribes Voter Education and Registration Committee and received $756 for the cards he turned in.
Nichols was fired after irregularities were discovered in the cards, according to United Sioux Tribes executive director Clarence Skye.
Holloway said Nichols is alleged to have used names obtained from the phone book or the newspaper to complete the registrations.
Nichols requested a court-appointed attorney during his arraignment before Magistrate Judge William L. Severns.
Nichols said he was completing a six-month sentence in the work-release program for a third-offense DUI conviction.
Severns denied Nichols' request for a lower bond.
"For five felonies, I don't think $750 is an unusually high bond," Severns said.
Fraud cases cloud S.D. elections
10 counties review questionable voter records; observers speculate about effect on Nov. 5
When Harding County Auditor Kathy Glines sifts through voter registration cards each election year, she usually can tell when something isn't right.
She knows, for instance, that among the 17 new registrations her office has received this year are several high school seniors who will vote for the first time next month in this ranching area in northwest South Dakota.
"I would say I know 100 percent of the people here," Glines said.
Familiarity is the first defense against voter registration fraud in South Dakota's rural counties. Auditors, many of whom have lived in the communities for decades, recognize misspelled names, unfamiliar addresses or forms filed by a person who has left town or died.
But this year, in a South Dakota election that has drawn the attention of the nation because it could determine the congressional power structure, the task of verifying voter registrations in places such as Gann Valley and Timber Lake has become more difficult. Thousands of new applications have poured into county auditors' offices as political parties and other advocacy groups conduct extensive registration drives, primarily on the state's Indian reservations. Requests for absentee ballots are running far ahead of typical election years in many counties. And with the stakes so high, every inconsistency and questionable voting document is being scrutinized.
One man has been charged with submitting fraudulent voter registration cards, and a woman who worked as a private contractor with the state Democratic Party is being investigated for falsifying registration cards.
More than 16,700 names have been added to South Dakota voter registration lists since the June primary. More than 4,100 of the registrations - about 25 percent - were filed in counties near or on Indian reservations.
Argus Leader reporters surveyed South Dakota county auditors, finding:
Auditors in 10 counties, all but one adjoining a reservation, have forwarded questionable registration forms or absentee ballot requests to the sheriff or state's attorney for investigation.
Of the nearly 400 questionable documents discovered by the auditors, 338 came from Shannon and Pennington counties, where the two investigations into possible voter fraud are under way.
Sixteen questionable registration forms have been turned over by Ziebach County officials. Twelve documents in Todd County and at least 10 in Bennett County were forwarded to investigators, according to the survey.
Media coverage of the fraud investigations has put the state's voter registration and absentee ballot system under the microscope. But Attorney General Mark Barnett bristles at the categorization of the two investigations as evidence of widespread voter fraud.
"I'm still only aware of two cases where criminal law may have been violated, and you've heard about those," said Barnett. "I just don't want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don't have any evidence of that."
Concerns about possible voter fraud surfaced in South Dakota earlier this month. On Oct. 3, Dewey County Auditor Adele Enright alerted Democratic Party officials to possible irregularities with four absentee ballot applications in her county. According to the party, those documents were submitted by Becky Red Earth-Villeda of Flandreau - also known by her Dakota name Maka Duta - an independent contractor working through the Coordinated Campaign, a get-out-the-vote program organized by the Democratic Party.
Democratic Party lawyers said they contacted the four people named on the absentee ballot applications in question and determined that two of the applications contained signatures not made by the person purporting to make them.
Red Earth-Villeda was terminated as a contractor, according to Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party and the Coordinated Campaign. Feinberg said Red Earth-Villeda was responsible for a large number of registrations from around the state, and so far the rest of them have checked out.
Federal Election Commission reports show the South Dakota Democratic Party paid Red Earth-Villeda $12,867 since the beginning of her contract work in mid-June. The money included reimbursement for travel costs and making copies.
Barnett and FBI officials then acknowledged that an investigation, led by federal authorities, was under way.
No charges have been filed. A woman identifying herself as Red Earth-Villeda called a public radio program last week saying she was innocent. Repeated attempts to contact her have been unsuccessful.
On Friday, in a separate case, a Rapid City man, 45-year-old Lyle Nichols, was charged with forgery for allegedly submitting five fraudulent voter registration cards. Workers at the Pennington County auditor's office called the sheriff's department after noticing irregularities in several registration forms.
In one case, the office received a voter registration form for a man who had already registered. But the signature and other information on the new form did not match the old one.
The Native American Voter Education and Registration Project paid Nichols $3 for every form he returned. That registration effort is a United Sioux Tribes project funded by a grant from the Washington, D.C.-based Bauman Foundation.
Officials said Nichols turned in 226 registration cards, most of which were fraudulent.
If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.
Each state determines voter registration and absentee ballot procedures, and those processes vary greatly.
South Dakota law requires eligible voters to register and sets a deadline - 15 days before the election - for registration forms to be filed with county auditors.
In contrast, Minnesota voters can register at the polls on Election Day. North Dakotans are not even required to register to vote. They simply show identification at the polls. In Iowa, voter registration forms are printed in telephone books.
In South Dakota, once a registration is received, the county auditor's office sends a confirmation card to the person who registered. When the voter returns that card, the signature is compared to the original registration.
If the confirmation card is not returned, the voter's name is put on an inactive list, and in order to vote on Election Day, the person is required to show a picture identification card.
Several auditors surveyed say they aren't familiar with many residents of the state's Indian reservations, and that makes it more difficult for them to verify the validity of those registrations. In addition, many of those new voters list a general delivery mail address, meaning they pick up their mail at a post office.
It's hard for officials to place those residents in a precinct because the auditor doesn't know exactly where they live. Other new reservation voters don't have telephones, so officials cannot call to verify registration information.
Still, the auditors say, many of the irregularities found among registration forms are simple mistakes.
"Two or three people sent in two or three absentee applications, and we caught it," said Lisa Schieffer, Meade County auditor. "I contacted one of the persons, and he explained to me he just wanted to be sure he got a ballot, so he sent one for his post office box, for his work address and for his home address."
In Brookings County, some South Dakota State University students requested absentee ballots, not realizing that they have to make that request in the counties in which they are registered.
Enright, the Dewey County auditor who discovered some questionable absentee ballot requests, said it's not surprising to find irregularities considering the number of new people being registered.
"With a voter registration drive, you have those mistakes every time, and you have a voter drive every time there's an election," she said.
The county voter registration lists are not exact directories, either. Sometimes, residents move to a new address, or out of a county, and don't retract their old registration. Other times, the resident maintains his old voting address in order to vote in that county or city.
The lists are periodically examined and updated to remove names of those who have died or moved, but the registration records still can contain duplications and inaccuracies.
For example, 26 South Dakota counties, including many reservation counties, have more registered voters than their adult population, according to an Associated Press analysis.
But several counties that do not have large Native American populations also appear to have more voters than people, according to those numbers.
Minnehaha County Auditor Sue Roust said those registration numbers may include inactive voters - those who have not voted in at least four years. If those voters go to the polls on Election Day, they will have to fill out a new voter registration card before being allowed to vote and should not be included in the count of registered voters.
As of Oct. 19, Minnehaha County had 87,221 registered voters, according to Roust. There are also 11,386 inactive voters.
Registration efforts are important in the state this election year because the battle for the U.S. Senate between Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson and Republican Rep. John Thune is considered a dead heat. A few thousand votes could determine the outcome, and ultimately the decision could sway the makeup of the Senate over which South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle now serves as majority leader.
Many of the potential new voters live on Indian reservations where registration numbers and Election Day turnouts are notoriously low but where Democrats are traditionally the favored candidates.
In 1968, just before Bobby Kennedy spoke to Los Angeles supporters in the hotel where he later would be assassinated, he placed a call to South Dakota. He had just won the presidential primary here and wanted to know how he had fared on the Indian reservations. His supporters told Kennedy that he had scored a landslide victory on the Pine Ridge reservation, receiving 878 votes. Eugene McCarthy had earned only nine votes and Lyndon Johnson, 2.
Thirty-four years later, some Native Americans say reservation voters still look to Democrats in national elections.
"The vast majority are voting the Democratic ticket. They probably have no idea who the Democratic candidates are. They don't know who Stephanie Herseth is. But they know who gives them problems," said Herbert Hoover, University of South Dakota history professor and author of several publications on Indian-white relations.
The questions of voter fraud this year, however, probably will hurt the Democratic candidates, said former Republican legislator Lola Schrieber of Gettsyburg.
"If there is fraud, it will affect the Democrats. They were the ones who hired the persons to get the registrations," she said.
Bob McCaughey, who ran Republican Sen. Karl Mundt's campaigns, agrees.
"I say that at the coffee group mixed with Republicans and Democrats, and I get a pretty unanimous agreement on that," he said.
Some analysts believe the voter fraud investigations may turn Native Americans away from the polls on Election Day. Some may be fearful of being involved in a controversy, and others could be disillusioned with the entire process.
But Hoover says the issue could play out the opposite way as well.
"When tribal people feel put upon, they will react with greater resolve," he said. "They are no different from any other group. If they are falsely accused, they rally. It could backfire."
Bob Burns, political science professor at South Dakota State University, said it is difficult to predict whether news of the registration investigations will interfere with the fortunes of Sen. Tim Johnson, who heads the Democratic Party ticket in the state.
If the election is decided by a small margin, the loser also may decide to challenge the outcome in court because of fraud concerns.
This is not the first time there has been election-time controversy surrounding attempts to get reservation voters to the polls.
In 1980, Democratic Sen. George McGovern's re-election campaign planned to give away a free television on a reservation.
"It (the television) was in the building next door to the polling place. You came in, looked at the TV, and they had brochures. Winning it didn't require you to vote," said George Cunningham, McGovern's top aide at the time.
Attorney General Mark Meierhenry heard about the giveaway and told the McGovern campaign what they were doing was illegal. The raffle ended immediately, and the television was removed.
"We probably lost some Native American votes because a lot of them never came back. They were scared away. But we weren't the only ones involved in something like that. There were a lot of places giving free food, and nothing was said," Cunningham said.
In the past, buses traveled through the reservations taking people to the polls, and giveaways, including free cigarettes, were used to attract voters.
Cunningham says the current controversy surrounding reservation voter registration forms is likely to hurt the Democrats on Nov. 5.
"It is hardly a positive thing," he said.
Are changes needed?
Voter registration investigations in South Dakota generate national interest because of the nature of the races this election year. But the issue also is newsworthy because South Dakota has such a good election record, said Burns. The state traditionally has among the highest voting turnouts in the country.
"South Dakota has no history of voter fraud. We really have a history of clean politics," Burns said. "That really explains the splash this has made. Even the hint of fraud generates a major stir in South Dakota."
Concerns about the process have caused some to speculate that changes should be made, tightening requirements for registration and absentee balloting.
Barnett said he is generally satisfied with the state's election laws but said the Legislature may want to look at the rules concerning absentee balloting.
In Barnett's view, there is a potential for problem in the fact that voters can register and cast an absentee ballot without ever being seen in the auditor's office.
But Kea Warne, elections supervisor for the secretary of state, said the state's election laws already provide adequate protection against voter fraud.
"Just by seeing what's happening now shows the system is working because county auditors are catching the problems," she said.
Burns said some have suggested the state outlaw the practice of hiring people to collect new registrations.
But Roust questions the wisdom of that move.
"When we have groups who are vastly underrepresented - and we know a lot of people on the reservations aren't registered - it's a big job to get those people involved, and I don't know if you can do that with volunteers," she said.
Burns agrees. "I don't really think the law needs to change. Volunteers can be overzealous as much as workers."
Burns said the potential fraud cases being investigated suggest the people involved were trying to defraud their employers in order to make more money rather than deliberately attempting to defraud the election process.
He wishes people would look at the registration drives from another side.
"All of South Dakota should celebrate the fact that 17,000 (people) previously not registered are going to participate in the election," he said. "That's democracy."
Nearly 17,000 people have registered to vote in South Dakota since the June primary. There are 523,063 potential voters.
County auditors have turned over to law enforcement nearly 400 voting registration cards or absentee ballot applications because of discrepancies ranging from misspelled names to ballot requests from deceased residents.
A Rapid City man has been charged with forgery for allegedly submitting fraudulent registration cards.
The Minnehaha County Auditor's Office has processed more than 4,800 absentee ballot requests. One was questionable and was sent to the state's attorney's office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
I know this little town well. It is where a number of native american's were moved when a dam was built on a local river some years ago. Sounds like prime ground for voter fraud. But the good people in the auditor's office seem to be pretty astute.