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Official: Double vote exposes flaw in system

Craig Guymon debates his fellow Mitchell school board candidates before a 2012 election. Guymon, who was not a candidate this year, was arrested Tuesday night for allegedly voting twice in Tuesday's school board election. (Daily Republic file photo)

Tuesday's case of alleged voter fraud in Mitchell has exposed a flaw in the state's voting system, the state's top elections official said Wednesday.

"What we've experienced in Mitchell is a deficiency in the system I've talked about for a number of years," said Secretary of State Jason Gant, "which is the possibility that voters can vote by absentee ballot and can later vote on Election Day."

Gant said the use of computerized vote centers would prevent intentional or accidental double voting. Vote centers utilize computerized poll books that are electronically connected.

"Vote Centers and electronic poll books would have prevented this from even being a possible fraud," Gant said.

According to Mitchell police, Mitchell resident Craig Guymon, 54, allegedly voted twice Tuesday in the Mitchell school board election: once in the morning at the election's sole polling place at the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy; and again in the afternoon by returning an absentee ballot to the auditor's office at the Davison County Courthouse.

Absentee voting was allowed until 3 p.m. on Election Day. Gant said he does not know why state law allows absentee voting on Election Day, but it's been a longstanding practice. The Legislature amended the law this year to cut off absentee ballot availability at 5 p.m. the day before an election, he said, but that law won't take effect until July 1.

Voting twice in an election is a Class 6 felony punishable upon conviction with up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $4,000.

Poll workers discovered Guymon's double ballots Tuesday and reported the matter to local election officials, who filed a complaint of voter fraud with police.

Investigator Joel Reinesch arrested Guymon around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, and Guymon was booked into the Davison County Jail. Guymon was released on a personal recognizance bond Wednesday morning.

"I have no comment. Don't call me again," Guymon said when The Daily Republic contacted him by phone Wednesday.

Guymon was an unsuccessful candidate for the Mitchell Board of Education several times in the past, but he was not a candidate in Tuesday's election. He was a vocal supporter of the losing candidates, Rod Hall and Tara Volesky.

For many years, Guymon has been highly critical of school officials and other Mitchell leaders. He has posted a website called The Book of Guymon to spread his views, and has sent mailers to all Mitchell residents and purchased advertisements in The Daily Republic. He has alleged, among other things, that the school district and other institutions are being manipulated by a Catholic conspiracy ring. In March 2009, following an incident with a coach at a Mitchell football game, Guymon agreed to avoid contact with high school coaches and discontinue attendance at football games in exchange for the dismissal of a disorderly conduct charge against him.

Mitchell Detective Lt. Don Everson said Guymon's voter fraud arrest is the first such case he has heard of in his 20 years with the police department.

"I don't believe we've ever had this happen in Davison County," Everson said. "You may not be able to prevent these things from happening, but checks and balances did catch this right after polling closed."

Gant said his office has cooperated with investigators in the case.

There have been cases in which voters have voted prior to Election Day by absentee ballot and voted again on Election Day, Gant said Wednesday, but he could not recall many same-day double voting incidents. Gant said most past cases involved forgetful voting by elderly voters, and in those cases nobody was prosecuted.

"A 2010 case involved an elderly gentlemen whose son took him to absentee vote and his daughter later took him to the polling place on Election Day," Gant said. "But those situations were caught, as was this one in Mitchell, and the absentee ballot was pulled and not counted."

Gant said a vote center system would have headed off the situation in Mitchell.

"Once you vote in one place, everyone knows through the computer that you have voted," he said, thereby locking out any possibility of a second vote.

Another benefit, Gant said, is that voters may vote at any vote center and are not limited to voting in a designated precinct polling place.

Vote centers were tried in several state locations in a successful 2011 pilot program, Gant said, and are now being used regularly in Sioux Falls.

Each vote center station costs about $2,000, and the number of stations will vary by city or county. The Pew Center on the States reported in 2012 that the use of vote centers reduced the overall cost of elections in Sioux Falls because fewer precinct polling locations were needed.

"I'm hopeful we can continue the discussions on the use of vote centers and electronic poll books," Gant said. "They definitely stop this problem from happening."

Whether someone who is stopped from voting twice by the vote center system could still be prosecuted for voter fraud is uncertain.

South Dakota has a general "attempt statute" that might also apply to voter fraud, Davison County State's Attorney Jim Miskimins said Wednesday.

That law would give an attempted violation of law half the penalty of a completed crime.

Gant said his office would be glad to work with the city or county to create vote centers.

"We could start working together to implement a plan and put it together next spring," Gant said.

Gant said election fraud is a felony for a good reason.

"Election crimes are serious," he said. "Our most fundamental right is our right to vote. We must keep the integrity of our election system.

"Everyone has to have confidence that each person gets just one vote, and that anyone who tries to disrupt that system will be prosecuted."