Thune Camp Probed for Ballot Violations

Secretary of State Chris Nelson has asked the Brookings County state's attorney to determine whether a staff member for John Thune's (search) Senate campaign acted illegally in getting absentee ballot applications.

Earlier this week, Jeff Thune, Republican John Thune's nephew, set up a table at South Dakota State University to process applications. According to the South Dakota secretary of state's Web site, he is not a certified notary public, as required by state law.

"We want to find out if the individual did or did not notarize absentee ballot applications," Nelson said. "They will find out what the facts are. Right now, we have two different stories."

Clyde Calhoon, the state's attorney for Brookings County, said he has been in contact with a local agent for the Division of Criminal Investigation.

"I told him to get to work on it," Calhoon said. "We need to find out as soon as possible what is going on."

It is a Class 1 misdemeanor for someone who is not a certified notary public to notarize applications for absentee ballots.

Any application that was illegally processed may be declared void, Nelson said.

Dick Wadhams, the manager for Thune's campaign, said Jeff Thune did not do anything wrong.

Randy Frederick, state Republican Party chairman, said he will support whatever Nelson decides to do.

"He is an honorable and upfront guy, and I will support him 100 percent," Frederick said. "He is in charge of elections and always wants to keep the process pristine and have no one cast an illegal ballot."

Officials from Sen. Tom Daschle's campaign declined to comment.

Voter problems have been reported in other cities as well.

Several applications arrived in the Clay County auditor's office that were filled out by University of South Dakota students who attended a Sept. 20 meeting at a sorority house.

Laura Gulk, one of the USD students who applied to vote, said three men asked her what party she was affiliated with and gave her an application. Gulk said she did not know the men and could not remember whether they applied the notary seal.

When the application showed up in the auditor's office, Rachel M. Hoff's name appeared as the notary public. State law requires that the notary who affixes the seal witness the person making the application.

Clay County Auditor Ruth Bremer said ballot applications from the sorority arrived in her office Wednesday.

"They were from Sioux Falls with a 'Victory' written as the return address," she said.

The full address was S.D. Victory, 2127 S. Minnesota Ave., Suite 206, Sioux Falls, SD 57105. That is the address of the state Republican Party's get-out-the-vote operation.

"When I saw that, I don't even question it," Bremer said. "It is an unusual year this year. I wish they would change the (absentee voting) law back."

Nelson said Friday he has not taken any formal action regarding the USD report, nor the only other suggestion of voter fraud statewide, which came from Mount Marty College in Yankton.

But if he finds out there were problems anywhere, election staff will work to correct them, he said.

This is the first year that South Dakotans may vote absentee without giving a specific reason. Absentee voting started Sept. 21.