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Criminal Charges In South Dakota Absentee Ballots, GOP Board Member Resigns

Six Republican notary publics face misdemeanors in connection with absentee ballot applications filled out on South Dakota college campuses.

Attorney General Larry Long says the number of improper absentee requests range from a few hundred to more than a thousand. He says several Democratic lawyers have already told him they plan to challenge the validity of those applications in court.

One former state lawmaker is, as of Wednesday, also a former member of the South Dakota Republican Party's executive board.

Jan Nicolay, who represented Sioux Falls for 14 years in the state House of Representatives and was chairman of the appropriations committee, said negative campaign tactics and what she views as mishandling of the absentee ballot process led to her decision.

"I'm not happy with that at all," Nicolay said of an absentee ballot snafu that affected voters on several college campuses.
Questionable Absentee Ballots Lead To Criminal Charges

10/22/2004 4:46:55 PM
KOTA Territory News & The Associated Press
 http://www.kotatv.com/localnews/story.asp?ID=19967


Questionable absentee ballots across the state lead to criminal charges.

Six Republican notary publics face misdemeanors in connection with absentee ballot applications filled out on South Dakota college campuses.

Attorney General Larry Long says there's no evidence of voter fraud and Secretary of State Chris Nelson says his office and County Auditors are working to make sure every application is proper.

Joseph Alick, Nathan Mertz, Todd Schlekeway, Rachel Hoff, and Eric Fahrendorf are charged in Sioux Falls. Jennifer Giannonatti will be charged in Rapid City.

Jesse Abbott of Black Hills State Universtiry says Giannonatti signed off on his application to register and vote absentee.

Giannonatti and five others face charges for notarizing some absentee ballot applications without seeing the voter sign the document.

Long says the number of improper absentee requests range from a few hundred to more than a thousand. He says several Democratic lawyers have already told him they plan to challenge the validity of those applications in court.

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GOP board member resigns

By Denise Ross, Journal Staff Writer
 http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2004/10/22/news/local/top/news01.txt

One former state lawmaker is, as of Wednesday, also a former member of the South Dakota Republican Party's executive board.

Jan Nicolay, who represented Sioux Falls for 14 years in the state House of Representatives and was chairman of the appropriations committee, said negative campaign tactics and what she views as mishandling of the absentee ballot process led to her decision.

"I'm not happy with that at all," Nicolay said of an absentee ballot snafu that affected voters on several college campuses.

State law requires absentee ballot applications to be signed by a notary public who witnesses the voter signing the application. Apparently, young workers for the state Republican Party and College Republicans collected the ballot applications, and notaries who did not see the voter sign the application affixed notary seals to the documents at a later time.

Both the South Dakota Republican Party and College Republicans fired those involved in the clouded absentee ballot applications, but Nicolay said party officials had a responsibility to see that the situation never got that far.

"The adults in charge didn't watch out for them," Nicolay said of the young campaign workers. "Young people get so excited, so intent on what they're doing. As the adults overseeing that, we should be on top of that. Now, it sounds like young people are going to be charged. The people responsible should have made sure things were done right."

Nicolay was referring to to a news conference scheduled today in Sioux Falls, where Attorney General Larry Long and Secretary of State Chris Nelson plan to make an announcement about the criminal investigation into the absentee ballot situation.

In addition to the absentee ballot problems, Nicolay said she resigned because of the negative tone of the campaigns being run by Republican candidates in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate races.

"I just don't like the ethics and tactics being used in the campaign. The Senate race bothers me worse, but I see the House race taking on the same shape. As adults, we're setting a very poor example," Nicolay said. "I resent the vindictiveness of what's going on. I don't think it represents our state well or the people of South Dakota well. It's unfortunate if they believe the ends justify the means."

Nicolay said it is her opinion that Republicans bear more responsibility for the negative advertising than do Democrats.

"We have to take the greater share of it. When (Democratic) Sen. (Tom) Daschle's campaign started out, it was, 'This is what I've done.' I thought we were going down that track. When (Republican) John Thune came out, his first ads were about him and his children," Nicolay said. "I think back to the Republican gubernatorial primary (of 2002) and looked at what Gov. (Mike) Rounds did: 'This is who I am. This is what I've done. This is what I plan to do.' I don't see that going on right now. I'm really disturbed."

Thune campaign manager Dick Wadhams did not return a call from the Rapid City Journal.

In a written statement, State Republican Party chairman Randy Frederick said he believes party officials handled the absentee ballot problems correctly.

"The South Dakota Republican Party has already acted appropriately to address the issues Jan raised as the cause for her resignation," Frederick said.

Nicolay's resignation detracts from greater campaign issues, Frederick said.

"The distractions of the day cannot trump things such as the Federal Marriage Amendment to ban gay marriage and the Flag Protection Amendment to ban desecration of the American flag. These issues are of more consequence to the average South Dakotan," Frederick said.

Lyndell Petersen of Rapid City is one of 83 people now serving on the South Dakota Republican Party's executive board. A good friend of Nicolay's from their days in the state Legislature, Petersen said he can empathize with her frustrations.

"I do think they have some responsibility, the party itself," he said of the absentee ballot situation. "Sometimes, no matter what you think you talked about, the execution spins away from that. Unless you're following something day to day, you don't have much control. She has her principles, and when that's it, that's it."

The executive board governs party policy and meets at least four times a year, Petersen said.

The party's executive board should not be confused with the central committee. At full membership, the executive board is composed of 99 members appointed by the state party chairmen from districts across the state. The central committee is composed of a county chairman plus a committeeman and a committeewoman from each of South Dakota's 66 counties.

It was the central committee that selected Larry Diedrich to be the Republican U.S. House candidate after Bill Janklow resigned in January.

Contact Denise Ross at 394-8438 or  denise.ross@rapidcityjournal.com

address: address: Rapid City Journal, KOTA Territory News & The Associated Press