To feed, or not to feed: That WAS the question!


Gordon Garnos

AT ISSUE: During the recent campaign complaints came from both the Republicans and the Democrats charging that meals were served on South Dakota’s reservations if the voters would then go cast their ballots. Some of these meals at voter rallies were being furnished by the Democratic Party while others were hosted by G.O.P. hopefuls Kristi Noem and Dennis Daugaard. Both the Attorney General of South Dakota and the U.S. Attorney said food-for-votes was illegal. However, a week or so ago the Attorney General advised the state was dropping the case. So, now what?

IN REFERENCE TO the headline, my apologies to Bill Shakespeare. In reference to the food being served at voter rallies, I could only draw my conclusions from the various newspaper accounts of these charges that occurred over the past several weeks. While the election has been over for several days, this food-for-votes thing is still under investigation.

That was until Nov. 11 when the Associated Press reported the announcement from South Dakota’s attorney general, Marty Jackley, “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.”

Needless to say, both state and federal laws bar anyone from offering anything of value in exchange for a vote or to induce someone to vote. However, Jackley’s office has now decided it would not prosecute anyone.

THE STATEMENT read, “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.”

Does that mean this whole food-for-votes issue just went up in a puff of smoke? As of this writing, I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t bet the bank on it because the U.S. attorney, Brendan Johnson, son of our U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, would be the one to carry on the investigation and do the prosecution of the case. Also, since the charges stemmed from three events on the reservations, the state probably would have no jurisdiction to prosecute. So far, as of this writing, Johnson has not responded publicly to Jackley dropping the case.

But even if the U.S. Attorney decides his investigation is going nowhere and also drops the issue, the Legislature still needs to clarify the law governing such meals. As I understand it, the way the current law is written, it is confusing.

As I understand the law, food served during political rallies is OK, but food served if the voters would then accept rides from volunteers to the polling places is wrong. And, again, according to newspaper stories, that is exactly what happened. There is also a time element in all of this. the food-for-votes on the rez took place during the day when the early voting booths were open and the Noem-Daugaard hotdogs were served during the evening when the voting booths were closed for the night.

In other words, rallies with food, be it $1,000-a-plate or hotdogs, have long been the traditional process for politician recognition. But as I said before, there is a difference.

The clarification of the law, as I also have said, needs to be tackled by the upcoming legislative session. Of course the biggy is the budget. Over the next several weeks I plan to touch on some of the other issues that will be awaiting the 2011 legislative session….

Where were the voters?

The November Second General Election had the second lowest voter turnout in the past 10 years. Only 62.27 percent of us cast our ballots. What a shame! The lowest turnout was in 1998 when only 58.81 percent of the voters went to the polls.

Voter turnout may not be as exciting as the news about Lindsay Lohan, but when one thinks of the possible ramifications of a low turnout it gets right down scary. For example, in the election of new school board members in one of South Dakota’s larger cities, only eight percent of the voters went to the polls. That was down right disgusting, especially when you consider that new school board had the responsibility of setting a multi-million dollar budget.

But back to the turnouts over the past 10 years:

1992 – Turnout – 75.01 percent
1994 – Turnout – 73.7 percent
1996 – Turnout – 70.4 percent
1998 – Turnout – 58.81 percent
2000 – Turnout – 68.38 percent
2002 – Turnout – 71.52 percent
2004 – Turnout – 78.63 percent
2006 – Turnout – 67.26 percent
2008 – Turnout – 73.02 percent
2010 – Turnout – 62.27 percent

That being said, the big voter turnout at this year’s election was Jerauld County (Wessington Springs is its county seat) with more than 83 percent of its voters going to the polls to lead the state. Shannon County (The home of the Pine Ridge Reservation) drew just 30 percent of its eligible voters to the polls for the lowest turnout in South Dakota….

Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion, retiring after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.

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