- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Federal and state investigators are probing accusations of voter-registration fraud on South Dakota's Indian reservations, which are Democratic strongholds, weeks before a crucial Senate election.
The FBI and state attorney general are investigating complaints that field workers for the Democratic Party have registered dead or nonexistent people to vote during a massive registration drive in the poverty-ridden counties.
The state Democratic Party has fired one contractor, Becky Red Earth-Villeda, for submitting four voter registrations with "possible discrepancies" through the Coordinated Campaign, a get-out-the-vote program organized by the Democratic Party.
Law enforcement authorities say their probe to date has focused on one person. A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party, Sarah Feinberg, said the party is not implicated.
But Democrats have been more aggressive in registering American Indians to vote, pledging to double Indian turnout to 20,000 this year. They also were encouraging Indians to cast absentee ballots, a process that began Sept. 24. Contract workers are paid for each new voter registration they submit.
The probe also has implications for the state's tight Senate race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson and the Republican challenger, Rep. John Thune. Mr. Johnson credited his victory in 1996 to his success on the reservations, and his campaign yesterday tried to distance itself from the investigation.
Earlier this year, Mr. Johnson boasted in an interview with the Lakota Journal that he planned to open campaign offices on all nine of the state's Indian reservations to boost registration and turnout.
"That has never been done before," Mr. Johnson said at the time. "It will be helpful to me and also to the tribes."
But yesterday, Johnson campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said Mr. Johnson had no campaign offices on any of the reservations.
"I don't know where it came from, but it's not true," Mr. Pfeiffer said. "We did not have any campaign offices on any reservation. There is some misinformation out there being circulated by I don't know who."
Leading the state Democratic Party's Indian voter-registration effort is Brian Drapeaux, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who is working hard to re-elect his Democratic colleague.
A spokeswoman for the Thune campaign, Christine Iverson, said the Johnson camp has some explaining to do.
"Have they been involved in any suspect voter-registration efforts?" Miss Iverson asked. "The Johnson campaign for months has been bragging about their voter-registration efforts on the reservations."
Mr. Pfeiffer said the Johnson campaign "of course" has not been involved in fraudulent voter registration "and no one has insinuated as such."
"The South Dakota Democratic Party has been involved in this," Mr. Pfeiffer said. "This is an investigation that focuses on one person."
But Republican Attorney General Mark Barnett said the two-week-old probe could expand if investigators turn up more cases of registration fraud.
Democratic Party attorneys contacted four of the persons supposedly registered by Miss Red Earth-Villeda after county officials raised suspicions with them.
"We investigated this matter and determined that two of the applications contain signatures not made by the person purporting to make them," party lawyer Jeff Viken of Rapid City said in a letter to U.S. Attorney James McMahon. "We will cooperate with you completely in any investigation you deem appropriate."
A South Dakota TV station reported that in Ziebach County, a woman supposedly applied for an absentee ballot after she died. The absentee-ballot application for Denise Red Horse was completed on Sept. 21, but Miss Red Horse had been killed in a car accident Sept. 3.
The high-profile Senate race could determine the balance of power in the chamber, which Democrats hold by one seat.
An MSNBC/Zogby poll conducted Oct. 9-11 showed Mr. Thune leading Mr. Johnson, 45 percent to 43 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent. But Indians often are not polled because two-thirds of them on the reservations lack telephones.
Voter turnout on the state's Indian reservations is generally light but solidly Democratic. President Bush won South Dakota in 2000 with 60 percent of the state's vote, but he lost on the reservations to Democrat Al Gore.
American Indians account for 8.3 percent of the state's population, or about 63,000 residents.


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