SD Republicans accuse Dems of trading chili for votes

The South Dakota GOP accused Democrats on Thursday of trying to buy votes by serving food at a series of get-out-the-vote rallies, but event organizers insisted their chili was legit.

The allegations came on the heels of a Wednesday chili rally in Rapid City hosted by Sen. Tim Johnson and Matt Varilek, who's challenging Republican Rep. Kristi Noem for the state's lone U.S. House seat.

A series of high-profile investigations were launched two years ago after candidates from both sides were accused of trying to swap food or food coupons for votes.

State GOP Chairman Tony Post said in a news release that the recent rallies were "eerily similar" to the events that sparked the 2010 investigations. That year, Democratic volunteers offered people at some rallies rides to polling places so they could vote early. Republicans accused Democrats of violating state and federal laws by offering people food in exchange for their votes.

Democrats in turn alleged that a Republican legislative candidate broke the law by giving people at high school football games coupons for $1 off food sold at a snack bar.

But the dust-up ended up a dud. State Attorney General Marty Jackley declined to file charges, and a federal prosecutor determined that the rallies didn't constitute vote buying because people could still choose how or whether to vote.

Federal and state laws bar anyone from offering anything of value in exchange for a vote or to compel someone to vote. Jackley said Thursday his office hadn't fielded new complaints from the GOP on the matter.

David Benson, Varilek's campaign manager, said the rallies were meant to pump up supporters and allow people to sign up as volunteers before Tuesday's election. Similar events are planned in coming days in Pierre, Sioux Falls, Watertown and elsewhere, though some might only serve cookies, he said.

"Noem's allies are resorting to misleading attacks," Benson said. "We happen to have chili served because we have volunteers who thought that would help and offered to do that. These events are to give (Varilek) and other Democrats an opportunity to talk about their race and get folks to volunteer for our last few days of campaigning."

Benson said that no absentee ballots were handed out or rides offered to polling locations.

State GOP officials couldn't immediately be reached Thursday.