South Dakota won’t prosecute food-for-votes allegations

By Chet Brokaw
Pierre, South Dakota (AP) November 2010

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said last week that his office will not file any criminal charges after investigating complaints from Republicans and Democrats accusing each other of improperly offering people food in exchange for votes.

Federal and state laws bar anyone from offering anything of value in exchange for a vote or to induce someone to vote. Based on information received so far, the attorney general’s office decided it would not prosecute anyone, Jackley said in a written statement.

“While the conduct at issue may well cross ethical boundaries, that determination is for the voters and not a prosecutor that must prove all elements of a statutory violation beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury,” he said. “Absent the receipt of additional information, there will be no further action from the attorney general’s office on these matters.”

Jackley said he had no comment beyond the written statement.

The South Dakota Republican Party filed a complaint Oct. 14 claiming three rallies held by Democrats on American Indian reservations broke the law by offering people food in exchange for votes. Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin attended those rallies. After the meals, people at those events were offered a chance to be taken by volunteers to polling places where they could vote early.

Republicans said tying the meals to early voting amounted to illegal vote-buying, but Democrats said no laws were broken.

Democrats two weeks later asked Jackley to investigate some Republican events. Democrats said a Rapid City get-out-the-vote rally featuring GOP gubernatorial candidate Dennis Daugaard and congressional candidate Kristi Noem offered people food. They also complained that a Republican legislative candidate gave people at a high school football game coupons worth $1 at a snack bar along with his campaign literature.

Jackley and U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson issued a letter Oct. 14 reminding the state’s Republican and Democratic parties of a 1998 opinion by their predecessors that said state and federal law does not allow anyone to offer anything of value in exchange for voting.

In the statement Jackley issued last week, he said his office decided “it does not have jurisdiction over a prosecutable state offense.” That could indicate lack of evidence of a crime or refer to the fact that the state has no jurisdiction in many situations on American Indian reservations.

Jackley said the South Dakota Legislature could decide whether any changes are needed in voting laws. People involved in the dispute also could file civil lawsuits, he said.

Erin McCarrick, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said she was pleased by the attorney general’s announcement because Democrats knew they had done nothing wrong.

“It just shows the Republican Party was playing politics, which is frustrating,” McCarrick said.

A state Republican Party official did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.