Senator cleared in voter notarization case

From Staff And Wire Reports

College of Agriculture Senator Ryan Brunner was cleared of charges saying he notarized absentee ballot applications without witnessing the person sign the form, said Brookings County State’s Attorney Clyde Calhoon.

The investigation is complete and no charges will be filed, Calhoon said.

“From now on I’m going to carry a registry, which used to be required by law and still is in some states,” Brunner said.

The registry would allow him to keep a list of signatures from people after he had notarized their absentee ballot application.

“If we had a registry, all this would have been over a lot sooner,” Brunner said.

All members of the College Republicans who are notarizing applications will carry a registry for the next election, said Brunner, who is vice chair of the group.

Brunner intends to contact state legislators before the session in January to discuss possible legislation aimed at preventing any ballot mishaps in the future.

A fourth person pleaded guilty last week to improperly notarizing absentee ballot applications during a Republican Party get-out-the-vote effort.

Eric Fahrendorf, 24, of Sioux Falls, was fined $200 and given a suspended 30-day jail sentence after his guilty plea Nov. 3.

Six workers for the GOP Victory effort resigned last month after questions surfaced about some absentee-ballot applications collected at college campuses across the state. Officials said the workers notarized applications collected by other workers, violating a state law that requires notaries to witness documents being signed before they can give them their official seal.

Rachel Hoff, 22; Joseph Alick, 28; and Todd Schlekeway, 27, all of Sioux Falls, pleaded guilty last week. They received $200 fines and 30-day suspended jail sentences.

Secretary of State Chris Nelson said he wants to meet with county auditors to find out what problems they encountered because of the rush of absentee voting this year.

A change in state law removed restrictions on absentee balloting and many auditors reported thousands of people voted before Election Day. The ballots are not counted until Election Day.

“The problems were all related to questions concerning absentee ballots,” Nelson said.

He attributed much of the state’s 78.6 percent voter turnout on Nov. 2 to the new law and high interest in the presidential and state congressional races.

“It’s great that the new law encourages people to vote,” he said. “This just kind of exploded on us.”

Nelson serves as chairman of the State Board of Elections, which analyzes election issues and makes recommendations for election-law changes to the Legislature.

He said he had no specific changes in mind now, but indicated he would like to discuss the issue in time to have needed revisions in place before the 2006 general election.