Last updated on 2015.06.04
...and becomes a state legislator?
Aberdeen attorney Brandon Taliaferro did a good job of keeping his compulsively vocal new client Annette Bosworth quiet at her arraignment last Monday. Now if Taliaferro could just get that memo to the spokesman to whom Bosworth has paid at least $5,000, a spokesman who spent an inordinate amount of time in the comment section here trying to get folks to talk about anything other than the fact that Bosworth is guilty of swearing a false oath on her nominating petition and committing felony perjury, a fact that no one, Bosworth herself included, has denied.
Amidst the dense smokescreen belched by the Bosworth media machine, Taliaferro may find one wisp of an argument that may have even the faintest relevance in the courtroom. Team Bosworth has asked for some legal precedent for a person being "charged for signature violations where they got legitimate signatures, i.e. real people who signed?"
Such a request is based on a false reading of what Bosworth did: she did not get legitimate signatures; someone else did, and she subsequently swore a false oath that she got those signatures. You won't find a precedent for the state charging a petition circulator who properly witnessed and verified signatures, because that's not a crime.
But even if we accept that the absence of precedent somehow calls into question the validity of the charges against Bosworth, an eager reader fills the gap with the Schlekeway precedent.
In 2004, Todd Schelekway was an eager young organizer working for the South Dakota Republican Party. He got a notary seal and helped process absentee voter applications on campus as part of an SDGOP push to get student votes. Unfortunately, Schlekeway notarized some absentee voter applications that he did not personally witness. That's a misdemeanor. Attorney General Larry Long and Secretary of State Chris Nelson quickly investigated and brought charges against Schlekeway and five other GOP workers. Schlekeway pled guilty, paid $245, got a 30-day suspended sentence, and gave up his notary seal.
Notice: the voters requesting the absentee ballots were real voters. Their signatures were real. Schlekeway just didn't witness those signatures. Schlekeway 2004 sounds a lot like Bosworth 2014, right?
When the charges were filed in October 2004, barely two weeks before the election, Minnehaha County state's attorney Dave Nelson offered this observation about charges that some electoral observers could have rightly called unusual:
Dave Nelson said the six are charged with improper use of a notary commission, a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to a month in jail and a $200 fine. They can also lose their notary licenses.
"Notary violations are very, very common" in government and business, he said.
But unlike most cases that aren't prosecuted, the six were charged because they made it possible for someone's vote not to count, Dave Nelson said.
"The potential consequences of these acts are significant and far-reaching," he said [Carson Walker, "Six Charged in Ballot Probe,"AP via Rapid City Journal, 2004.10.24].
Yet our state officials were not trying to disenfranchise any voters. Remember: Larry Long and Chris Nelson were Republicans. The absentee ballots in the solicitation of which Schlekeway and friends were misdemeanoring were meant to boost Republicans. Screwing up the notarization opened the door for Democrats to challenge those ballots. Long and Nelson did not want the courts to throw out the ballots that Schlekeway's sloppiness spoiled:
Long said he hopes that if any ballots are challenged in court, the judge sides with the voter's right to be counted and agrees that the solution was a valid way to fix problems caused by wayward notaries [Walker, 2004.10.24].
In the Schlekeway case, Long recognized that the state could simultaneously and consistently seek a liberal interpretation of the law to protect the will of innocent voters and strictly enforce notary law to punish wayward notaries who put innocent voters' will at risk. Again, Schlekeway 2004 sounds a lot like Bosworth 2014. Long's successor, AG Marty Jackley, went out of his way to protect voters' (or in this case, nominators') intent from a wayward petition circulator. But in consistency with that desire to protect those innocent citizens, he is prosecuting a petition circulator who could well have thwarted their intent with her flagrant disregard for the requirements of the circulator's oath.
Now Annette, before, you poo-poo the precedent, look at where Schlekeway's election crime got him. The George W. Bush campaign was nice enough to give Schlekeway and others involved in the voting fraud campaign jobs right away in Ohio (where Bush won! well done, Todd!). Four years later, the South Dakota GOP invited Schlekeway back to become the first and so far only Todd to serve in the South Dakota Legislature, for one term in the House and one term in the Senate.
So follow the Schlekeway precedent to its logical conclusion, and a quick, contrite guilty plea could land Annette a job campaigning for some Republican favorite in a big Senate campaign. Perhaps the party would send you to join your husband Chad in Alaska, where you could help one of the establishment Republicans beat back Joe Miller's repeat Tea Party challenge. Then, having served the party well, they'd bring you back to South Dakota in 2018, when your District 13 Senator, Phyllis Heineman, will be term-limited out. What better precedent could you ask for?
Of course, the vital difference between Schlekeway 2004 and Bosworth 2014 is that Schlekeway committed a misdemeanor in the service of the party favorite John Thune, while Bosworth committed a felony to get on the ballot and compete with party favorite Marion Michael Rounds (and you were competing with Rounds, right, Annette?).
The Schlekeway precedent sinks the only remotely legal argument Team Bosworth has offered in defense of her perjury charges. If Bosworth were smart, she'd find a way to turn that precedent to humbler success in a future election... but I think she's shot holes in the bottom of that boat as well.