- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota yesterday disputed his own campaign spokesman, saying he does have re-election offices on Indian reservations, where the FBI is investigating reports of massive voter registration fraud.
"I don't know if we have offices in all nine [reservations], but we do have campaign offices in Indian country," Mr. Johnson said.
On Monday, as state and federal investigators expanded their probe of registration fraud on the reservations, Johnson campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer denied that the campaign had any offices in those areas.
"We did not have any campaign offices on any reservation," Mr. Pfeiffer said. "There is some misinformation out there being circulated by I don't know who."
Prodded by Mr. Pfeiffer, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee even sent out a correction of an earlier news release, saying Mr. Johnson's campaign did not have offices on any Indian reservations.
Asked if his campaign offices on reservations were implicated in registration fraud, Mr. Johnson replied, "That hasn't been their job, to register voters. That's the state party."
State Republican Party Chairman Joel Rosenthal said the conflicting signals from the Democratic camp illustrate how Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from the criminal probe after waging an aggressive campaign to register Indians to vote.
"They're acting kind of like the piano player in the brothel," Mr. Rosenthal said. "This is widespread, and it smells."
More reports of suspected voter registration fraud surfaced yesterday in Buffalo County, near the Crow Creek reservation, Mr. Rosenthal said. The Democratic Party has fired one contract worker for submitting questionable voter registrations, and authorities are examining reports of workers submitting registration forms for dead or nonexistent people, and of forging forms and turning in duplicate registrations.
The vote on the reservations, which are Democratic strongholds, could affect the outcome of the extremely tight contest between Mr. Johnson and his Republican challenger, Rep. John Thune. Mr. Thune led in the latest poll by 2 percentage points, 45 to 43, in a race generally regarded as the highest-profile Senate campaign in the nation.
But American Indians often are not polled because a majority of them on the reservations lack telephones. Indians compose 8.3 percent of the state's population.
Mr. Johnson credited his victory in 1996 to the Indian vote, and Democrats have waged a strong effort this year to increase voter registration in the state's nine sprawling reservations. Democrat Al Gore won the state's Indian vote in the 2000 presidential campaign despite losing the state overall to Republican George W. Bush, 60 percent to 38 percent.
The state has reported 17,000 new registrations since the June 4 primary which represents about 6 percent of the approximately 300,000 voters that typically cast ballots in a statewide Senate race. Absentee balloting is reportedly higher than the levels usually seen in a presidential election year.
Mr. Johnson said the probe so far has turned up "only a handful of instances where some abuse has taken place."
"Obviously we have zero tolerance for criminal activity," Mr. Johnson said. "The investigation is ongoing and if there's wrongdoing, it ought to be ferreted out and prosecuted."
State Democratic Party officials have said the party is not implicated in the investigation and they have cooperated with authorities.
The chairman of the Senate Republicans' campaign committee, Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, said the situation in South Dakota is "shameful."
"It is clearly driven by the Democratic Party, based on what has been released to date," Mr. Frist said. "It shows the lengths to which the Democratic Party will go in their efforts to steal these elections, if what is alleged is true."
Asked if Republicans would challenge the election were Mr. Thune to lose, Mr. Frist replied, "That's premature to say. Clearly the outcome could be challenged."


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