As regular Talking Points readers know, the South Dakota Senate race has recently been roiled by charges of absentee ballot fraud in and around Indian reservations in the state. To date, an independent contractor working for the Democratic party-organized state "coordinated campaign" was fired by the state party when it was found that she likely forged two absentee ballot applications. The state party then reported the matter to the local US Attorney. (The woman in question defends herself here.) Separately, two brothers working for the Native American Education and Voter Registration Project -- a group unaffiliated with the Democratic party -- have also been accused -- seemingly with good reason -- of trying to register a number of persons without their knowledge.
Bad things, to be sure. And today the state's major paper, The Argus Leader, ran an editorial saying -- not unreasonably -- that voter fraud can never be tolerated.
As one might expect in such cases, the story has gotten the treatment in a palpably tendentious column by John Fund on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. But what of the claims of massive vote fraud? Let's look a bit deeper.
It turns out that the most aggressive reporting of this story -- picked up in Drudge and other places -- has come from Sioux Falls's KSFY TV, the local ABC affiliate. And the station turns out to have some rather interesting connections to the John Thune campaign.
John Thune's campaign spokesperson Christine Iverson is a former reporter for KSFY.
John Thune's Washington, DC spokesperson Jennifer Hayes is also a former reporter for KSFY.
KSFY News Anchor Mitch Krebs was scheduled to moderate this Monday's League of Women Voters debate between Tim Johnson and John Thune. That is, he was until the South Dakota League of Women Voters found out that Krebs was the emcee at a September 17th fundraiser for the Minnehaha County (where Sioux Falls is located) Republican Party and the John Thune for Senate Campaign, featuring Mary Matalin.
The LWV has now asked KSFY to withdraw Krebs from the debate. And the station has agreed. Krebs has also, according to TPM sources, been pulled from the vote fraud story altogether. When asked for confirmation that Krebs had been pulled from the story, KSFY news director Neal Bennett told TPM it was a "KSFY internal matter."
Now it's long been TPM's view that misfiled or improperly filled out voter registration cards or absentee ballot applications can be whipped up into charges of voter fraud and often for nefarious purposes. What seems to us like an interesting example of this came on KSFY's Tuesday evening newscast with a piece from reporter Shelley Keohane.
First a little backstory, which will take a moment to explain, but bear with me ...
Both parties around the country routinely do absentee ballot application drives and process them with local voter registrars in quantity. In fact, on balance, Republicans tend to do an even better job of this than Democrats.
Not long ago Zeibach County Auditor Cindy Logbreak got approximately ninety absentee ballot applications bundled and sent out from the Democratic party. One of those was for a Eunice Taylor whose address listed her in another county, Roberts County. It turns out that there's another Eunice Taylor who lives in Zeibach County. So, point being, there are two Eunice Taylors. Still with me? Good. There's a bit more.
So how did the absentee ballot for Roberts County end up in Zeibach County? It appears that the first Eunice Taylor who filled out an absentee ballot registration form actually wasn't currently registered to vote. The normal procedure in this case would be for the county auditor to send the applicant a registration form and have them fill it out and resubmit their absentee ballot application. In this case, however, when some flunky at Democratic party headquarters was putting these absentee ballot applications in different piles to send to different counties he or she looked on a voting list and found "Eunice Taylor" in Zeibach county and sent it there.
So the application got sent to the wrong county.
So just to recap: we have a voter who filed an absentee ballot request but who apparently wasn't registered yet. She would have either subsequently registered or her vote simply wouldn't have been counted. A mistake was made and the form was sent to the wrong county. There's no way this vote could ever have gotten counted in this other county since it has an address in another part of the state. South Dakota law says such a misaddressed ballot should simply be forwarded back to the original county.
Still with me? Good. We're almost to the good part.
Enter Shelley Keohane who trooped out to Zeibach county and tracked down Eunice Taylor for part of her Tuesday night report on the burgeoning voter fraud case. Here's part of the transcript in which Keohane interviews Taylor -- i.e., not the one who filed the application -- in running guffaw mode, walking her through what seems to be an obviously falsified ballot application ...
Keohane: Eunice Taylor also sent in an application saying she would be absent from the county on election day. [But] so far she's got no plans for November 5th. Where do you plan to be on Election Day?
At the end Keohane says she got in touch with the other Eunice Taylor. What she fails to mention is that that afternoon, before this segment was produced, she had interviewed the other Eunice Taylor and that Eunice Taylor told her that she had in fact filled out and signed the application.
Eunice Taylor: In Dupree [i.e., in her hometown.]
Keohane: There are other problems with Taylor's application.
Eunice Taylor: Everything's wrong (laughter) that's not my signature or anything, or my address.
Keohane: In addition this Eunice Taylor lives in Dupree and says she never sent in an application ... I did get in touch with a Eunice Taylor at the number on the application but Roberts County doesn't have a Eunice Taylor registered. Just Ziebach County.
So what exactly was the point of interviewing this other woman and having her say the signature on the document wasn't hers? Right. No reason other than to create the misleading impression that this was a fraudulent ballot rather than one that had simply been sent to the wrong county auditor. The next day the competitor station KELO -- the largest in the market -- did a more thorough and one might say more honest job of reporting this out and made all this clear.
And there's more.
Where did Shelley Keohane get the documents which helped her put together the Eunice Taylor stunt? After questions about Keohane's report were first raised, this post appeared on the KSFY website saying that she got them from "a personal friend who volunteers for John Thune's campaign."
It turns out, according to TPM's sources, that the 'personal friend' was a Sioux Falls lawyer named Jon K. Lauck, who happens to be the Chairman of Lawyers for Thune Committee. Lauck's bio at the Republican National Lawyers Association website says he is "currently chairman of the Lawyers for Thune Committee and deeply involved the nation's most-watched Senate race."
And, surprisingly, there's even more.
It turns out that Jon Lauck and Shelley Keohane live at the same address in Sioux Falls.
On Thursday, after these various facts came to light, Shelley Keohane too was pulled off the voter fraud story by KSFY. We reached KSFY news director Neal Bennett Thursday evening to ask if he could confirm that Keohane had gotten yanked from the story. He declined to confirm or deny that Keohane had been pulled from the story citing it as a "KSFY internal matter."