Last updated on 2014.06.04
Hyper-partisan Secretary of State Jason Gant is on a losing streak. First he loses in his effort to keep Charlie Johnson off the District 8 ballot against gubernatorial yes-man Senator Russell Olson. In that loss, Gant never acknowledged that it was his own election-oversight machine, in the person of the Lake County Auditor, that committed the technical error Gant used to toss Johnson's nominating petition.
Then Friday the state Dems land the double-whammy, winning the other half of their lawsuit to restore Mitchell professor David Mitchell's petition and place him on the District 20 House ballot. (Even I was pessimistic we'd win that one, but hey, let's roll!)
Dem lawyer and District 13 Senate candidate Sam Khoroosi completely shut down one of Gant's arguments against Mitchell's petitions. Gant had contended Mitchell had invalidated some of his own petitions by notarizing them himself. Khoroosi noted Rep. Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City) had self-notarized the petition that put him on the 2012 ballot. Faced with the prospect that Jeanette Deurloo or Jackie Swanson could use the same logic to kick the Republican Speaker pro-tem off the ballot, Secretary Gant fell silent on the self-notarization argument.
And now Secretary Gant is catching heck for endorsing another Daugaard yes-man, Rep. Val Rausch, in his effort to oust Senator Tim Begalka in the GOP primary that he is supposed to impartially oversee. The same man who told Pat Powers he couldn't blog while working in the Secretary of State's office tells David Montgomery that the Secretary can put on his party hat the moment he steps out of the office.
Apparently top election officials in other states engage in similar political activity, and of course, South Dakota has no laws or ethics rules that forbid Gant from endorsing candidates. But Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says Gant's partisan activity damages his office:
"We are first and foremost stewards of the democratic process," said Ritchie, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. "Taking a position ... which some secretaries do decide to do, is damaging of that public perception of that openness, fairness (and) lack of bias in the election process" [David Montgomery, "After Gant Endorses, Questions Follow," that Sioux Falls paper, 2012.05.27].
Gant whimpers that he can do whatever he wants because South Dakota has enough safeguards to keep him from fiddling with the election results. But his predecessor Chris Nelson says that's not the issue:
Nelson avoided endorsements primarily to prevent the appearance of impropriety, not because he had the power to meddle with results, he said.
"The system has checks and balances in there that really would prevent any election official from doing anything that would affect the outcome of the vote totals," Nelson said. "I just didn't want to give that appearance that I was favoring one side or the other" [Montgomery, 2012.05.27].
Chris Nelson understands that ethical behavior is a matter of principle, not just practical outcomes.
Former Secretary of State Joyce Hazeltine also tut-tuts Jason the Hutt:
"Personally, I don't like to see it happen," said Hazeltine, who said she was "a little bit concerned" when she heard about Gant's endorsement of Rausch. "I think it's going a little bit too far as far as our duties in the office were. But things have changed quite a bit since I was there" [Montgomery, 2012.05.27].
Joyce is right: things have changed. Secretary Gant has degraded the office from one deserving the public trust to a cabal of partisan hacks to be viewed with deep suspicion.
p.s.: I am certain Secretary Gant is not in cahoots with militant lesbians. Alas, such cahootsification might be an improvement.
Update 10:23 CDT: Mr. Montgomery updates with a 2007 survey from the National Association of Secretaries of State listing some additional precautions various states take to keep their top election officials from engaging in partisan monkeyshines.