SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A federal judge partially granted Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle's (search) request to limit the activities of Republican poll watchers, after he accused his opponent and the GOP of intimidating American Indian voters.
The decision early Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol (search) applies only to voters in Charles Mix County. Daschle had requested an order for the whole state.
As part of the ruling, Republican poll watchers in Charles Mix County are prohibited from following American Indian (search) voters out of polling places. They are also prohibited from taking down the license plate numbers of American Indians' vehicles.
"There clearly is the threat of irreparable harm to (Daschle)," Piersol said.
The ruling came after Daschle took his Republican opponent, the South Dakota Republican Party and GOP election observers to court late Monday, alleging intimidation of American Indian voters. He asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent Republicans from doing anything that would "harass, intimidate or discourage voters."
Daschle, who is seeking his fourth term, and John Thune, a former member of the U.S. House who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Tim Johnson in 2002, are locked in a close race.
The hearing, which began about 8 p.m. Monday, lasted about three hours. It took about two hours for Piersol to reach his decision.
David Jordan, a volunteer Daschle poll watcher, testified at the three hour hearing that he spent Monday at Lake Andes, a town heavily populated by Yankton Sioux, and saw GOP observers follow early Indian voters out of the polls and write down their license plate numbers.
"They did it pretty much every time" an Indian voted, Jordan said.
On cross-examination, Jordan said none of the observers kept anyone from voting, spoke to any voters or wore clothing bearing Thune's name.
Joel C. Mandelman, a lawyer from Arlington, Va., testified that he was hired by the Republican National Senatorial Committee to monitor the voting because of worries about fraud.
He said he believes 150 attorneys or observers are working for Republicans in eastern South Dakota and a greater number in the western part of the state on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations.
Mandelman testified he wrote down the license plate numbers of six or seven vehicles used to take Indians to the Charles Mix County courthouse to vote early.
Mandelman said he and another GOP lawyer went out of their way to avoid intimidating voters: "Nobody was intimidated by anything. They all voted."
Traditionally, Indians in South Dakota vote heavily Democratic.
During a break in the hearing, Daschle spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said Thune's campaign lied in accusing Daschle of trying to keep Republican observers from watching the polls.
"All we're trying to do is to let people vote," Pfeiffer said.
Thune campaign manager Dick Wadhams said Daschle's intent was to keep GOP watchers away and lay the groundwork for a judicial challenge of the election results.
"Who goes into court the night before an election if they're not afraid they're going to lose," he said.
Wadhams said Piersol was at one time Daschle's lawyer, the judge was recommended to the bench by Daschle, and Piersol's wife supports Daschle's campaign.
"This is a joke," Wadhams said.
A crowd of mostly Thune supporters gathered outside the federal courthouse with signs such as "Don't Steal Tom," "Shame on Tom" and "Time for Change."