MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) –An elderly St. Peter, Minn. woman diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and dementia has been charged with voter fraud.
Margaret Schneider, 86, says she forgot she had voted by absentee ballot in the 2012 primary election and about a month later, on Aug. 14, the great-great-grandmother went to her polling place to vote.
Now Schneider finds herself facing a felony charge, and a court appearance April 2. She faces up to five years in prison. Not only will she fight the charge, she will not use an attorney. She says she did not do anything wrong.
WCCO talked to legal experts who say Schneider has an excellence defense. The law requires intent, and she can argue she simply forgot and didn’t intend to vote twice.
“I just don’t know what to think, I am so nervous about it,” Schneider said. “I didn’t realized I had (voted twice) and I wish they would understand that people my age have an (occasional) lapse in memory but they don’t understand, I guess.”
Schneider said she has voted in every presidential election since 1948, when Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey.
A police report notes the voter roster at Schneider’s polling place, which shows she had already voted absentee, but the election judge didn’t stop her from voting again. Schneider says if she’s convicted, the election judge should be convicted too for failing to stop her.
“The people (at the polling place) had a notice with my name and the letters ‘A.B.’ next to it and they let me vote anyway,” Schneider said. “I think they are just as guilty as I am.”
Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer doesn’t comment on specific cases, but says that in general, if there’s probable cause to show a crime occurred, she is required to prosecute.
Fischer had to go back more than 100 years to find precedent in this case, and it was the 1800s the last time someone in Minnesota was prosecuted for voting twice.
Under Minnesota Statute 201.275 a county attorney “who is notified by affidavit of an alleged violation of this chapter shall promptly investigate. If there is probable cause for instituting a prosecution, the county attorney shall proceed by complaint or present the charge, with whatever evidence has been found, to the grand jury. A county attorney who refuses or intentionally fails to faithfully perform this or any other duty imposed by this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall forfeit office.”
Legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would change the wording of the law so prosecutors have more latitude and discretion.
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