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Questionable Absentee Ballot Investigation

October 8, 2004, 5:50 PM by Cathy McLeer

Questionable Absentee Ballot Investigation

The man in charge of South Dakota elections demanded answers about questionable absentee ballot applications. KELOLAND news first brought you the story Wednesday about applications that may have been improperly notarized.

Hundreds of actual votes could be in question as a result of this. Because if an absentee ballot request isn't valid, the ballot won't be either. Secretary of State Chris Nelson wants to keep that from happening. "I want to know what happened," says Nelson.

Nelson asked the Brookings County State's Attorney to look into reports a campaign volunteer, on the SDSU campus wasn't a certified notary. Jeff Thune told KELOLAND TV his group notarized 75 absentee applications. But we checked. According to the state Jeff Thune is not a certified notary. A spokesman for Thune's campaign says Jeff Thune mis-spoke and didn't do anything wrong


Nelson says, "I want to know the facts if we have any problems with bad applications, my great hope is we don't find anything, that there is no problem."

In Vermillion and Yankton there's concerns the notary seal on hundreds of absentee applications may not match the person who witnessed the applicants' signatures. One student says a man witnessed her signature on her application, but a woman's name appears on the notary seal. Nelson says, "That's still a developing issue at the moment, we've not taken any formal action in that regard but we are looking at it."

In Minnehaha county that will mean sifting through tens of thousands of absentee requests.

Minnehaha County Auditor, Sue Roust says, "If it turns out there are some questionable items, a particular notary who has been identified who may have not notarized things properly, we make copies of absentee requests. So, if we have enough time we could go back through our request pull out any that are like that and have the voter start over."

But the applications have to be found first. Nelson says, "We don't know where these applications are, are they in the auditor's office have the ballots been sent, voted and returned we don't now."

Nelson says, time is on his side. "Fortunately we have some time. It gives us 25 days which gives us time to find out if we've got a problem, if we do, to find out who was affected by it, get it taken care of." he says.

If invalid absentee requests are found, the counties have to contact the voter and ask for a photocopy of their ID to validate their request. If the auditor's office already sent the absentee ballot to a voter with an invalid application, and the ballot had already been completed and sent back, the county will set the ballot aside. The invalid ballot will be marked as spoiled and if there's enough time, the voter will be sent and new application and ballot.

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