W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 13, 2002 -- Republican nominee John Thune today conceded the South Dakota Senate race to Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, deciding not to ask for a full recount even though he says he remains concerned about alleged voting improprieties.
In an evenly worded statement, Thune said that his "very, very" difficult decision to eschew another tabulation reflected his fear about putting "South Dakota through a lengthy recount which would not guarantee my victory or fix any irregularities would be painful for the state and unlikely to change the outcome."
"People have raised concerns about voting irregularities around the state. They have said that if we pursue a recount these problems can be brought to light," the statement reads. "And these people make good points. And I have weighed their input heavily. But at the end of the day, I have had to ask myself if putting the people of South Dakota through a recount would be divisive or helpful to the process."
Thune's decision adds a little clarity to the composition of the 108th Congress, which convenes in January. Republicans will hold at least 51 seats in the Senate. Democrats will occupy at least 47 seats, plus one independent, Vermont's James Jeffords, who caucuses with them.
The resolution of the South Dakota race leaves all 2002 Senate races decided but one: Louisiana. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu failed to get 50 percent of the vote on Election Day and so, per the state's unique election system, now faces a run-off on Dec. 7 against Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell.
That race is considered a toss-up.
The final tally in South Dakota gave Johnson a 524-vote margin. It was up to Thune to request a recount or not; given the close margin, his request would automatically have been granted.
Republican lawyers pored over the tally books for possible irregularities. The lawyers presented their results to Thune, who then went ahead and made his statement.
Before the election, a contract employee for the state Democratic Party was charged with falsifying absentee voter registration forms. Republicans contended that Democrats knew about it, endorsed it, and counted on fraudulently high turnout from Native American reservations in order to gain extra votes.
Democrats strongly denied the claims, pointing, instead, to aggressive voter education and registration drives, a pet project of Johnson's campaign manager. Voter turnout on reservations was up — a triumph, according to some, and a sign of potential fraud, according to others.
State and federal authorities continue their investigation.