SA senator under investigation in voter notarization case

Michelle Herrick

Michelle Herrick

Officials are investigating SDSU student Ryan Brunner for allegedly notarizing two absentee ballot applications without witnessing the person fill out the form.

The South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation is looking into the matter, said Brookings County State’s Attorney Clyde Calhoon.

“At this point, I don’t know if there will be any criminal charges,” Calhoon said.

Calhoon said there are two applications in question.

The applications in question stem from a Sept. 18 SDSU football game against Western Oregon where Brunner along with three or four other notary public were notarizing ballot applications, Brunner said.

Brunner, a computer science and ag engineering major, said he was following a very specific and deliberate process when notarizing the applications.

“I was notarizing requests on the spot so no mix-up could have occurred,” he said.

All the absentee ballot applications from that day will be counted, Brunner said.

Brunner is a Students’ Association Senator for the College of Ag Engineering. He is also a member of the College Republicans.

The South Dakota Legislature changed the restrictions on absentee voting this year allowing voters to vote early without specifying a reason.

“The new controversies we are seeing is because of the new law encouraging more early voting and more absentee ballot requests,” said SDSU Political Science Department Head Bob Burns.

On Oct. 29, three former Republican campaign workers pleaded guilty to improper use of a notary commission in Sioux Falls.

Six workers were originally charged because they failed to watch some voters sign the absentee ballot applications, said Attorney General Larry Long.

Magistrate Peter Gregory levied $200 fines against Joseph Alick, 28; Todd Schlekeway, 27; and Rachel Hoff, 22; they also were told to pay $45 in court costs and were given 30-day suspended jail sentences. All three will also voluntarily give up their notary public commissions, their lawyers said.

Eric Fahrendorf’s hearing is set for Nov. 3 and Nathan Mertz’s lawyer rescheduled his first court appearance to Nov. 8. The charges are misdemeanors.

All five are from Sioux Falls.

Jennifer Giannonatti is to be charged in Rapid City, but no complaint has yet been filed, officials said Friday.

Most of the absentee ballot applications acquired by the Republican get-out-the-vote effort were legal and there’s no indication that any unqualified voter tried to cast an absentee ballot, Long said.

Campuses included in the investigation were South Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, Augustana College, Mount Marty College, Black Hills State, Dakota State, Northern State and the School of Mines & Technology.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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