Back during the South Dakota Senate campaign we devoted lots of space to trumped-up Republican charges that Democrats had turned the state's Indian reservations into hotbeds of voter fraud. At some point I want to devote a long post to all the ins and outs of what happened in the voter fraud pseudo-scandal. But for now it's enough to remember that Republicans made a series of wild-eyed allegations of 'massive voter fraud.' Those charges were then amplified by a number of local reporters who turned out to be working in embarrassingly close coordination -- in one case, cohabiting -- with the Republican operatives who ginned up the accusations in the first place.
The whole thing was a rather shameless attempt to stymie efforts to get more people to exercise their legitimate right to vote -- and stir up politically-helpful racial animosity too. The 'massive fraud' charges eventually collapsed under the weight of their own ridiculousness, though this didn't stop Republican candidate John Thune and the RNC from a series of scurrilous ads and mailings accusing Democrat Tim Johnson of having a hand in the fraudulent voting.
On election day Johnson beat Thune by a minuscule margin of 524 votes. The Thune campaign grumbled about voter fraud. But in the absence of any evidence, Thune took the high road and conceded the race.
But there turned out to be an interesting division of labor: While Thune was taking the high road, his Republican operatives -- working for the RNC -- fanned out across the state's Indian reservations collecting affidavits purporting to prove widespread voter fraud -- enough to have cost Thune the election.
These affidavits were turned over to the State Attorney General Mark Barnett and, helpfully, to Byron York of the National Review and a number of other conservative news outlets. York's piece, which was based on the 50 RNC-collected affidavits, made the cover of the current issue of the National Review with the headline "South Dakota's Invalid Senator: How the Democrats Stole a Senate Seat."
As you might expect, the charges got lots of play in DC, reviving the claims of voter fraud. But if you were reading the South Dakota press you'd see that the state's Republican Attorney General, Mark Barnett, found the affidavits a good deal less impressive than York did. On December 10th he told the Rapid City Journal ...
Realistically, many of the things set out in those affidavits are not crimes. They are what I would call local election-board management problems. A fair number could be read as complaints about how effective the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort was. They had people watching, then jumping on the phone to one of their drivers.
Barnett didn't think any of the allegations would have changed the result of the election. But he said he would open investigations into "two or three affidavits out of 50" which included allegations of vote buying.
A few days later Barnett came back with the results of his investigation, recounted here in December 13th AP story ...
Barnett dismissed allegations in three affidavits, purportedly from people who were offered rides to the polling place in a Johnson van and offered $10 to vote. One of the people could not be located, and the others said they did not vote and were not offered money to vote. One said his signature had been forged on his affidavit, and the other said she signed hers because a friend told her to.
"These affidavits are either perjury or forgery, or call them what you will. They are just flat false," Barnett said.
So Republican attempts to substantiate their own charges of fraud and forgery end with RNC operatives caught filing perjurious or forged affidavits to prove their phony case. At least, so says South Dakota's Republican Attorney General.