[Image courtesy of townmapsusa]
Every now and then, you come across a story that - while you understand it - still makes you sad. This is one of those stories.
According to the Mankato Free Press Margaret Schneider, an 86-year-old St. Peter, MN woman, is facing charges of voting twice in the 2012 primary election:
[Schneider] uses a walker to get around her small St. Peter apartment, can't stand for long periods of time and readily admits she's a victim of senior moments. [She] has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and dementia is one of her symptoms.
She's also easily stressed, which became apparent while she discussed ... the letter she received recently from the Nicollet County Attorney's Office. It told her she's been charged with a felony for voting twice during the 2012 primary election.
Schneider doesn't deny the allegation. She realizes now, after talking with St. Peter police detective Travis Sandland, that she did vote twice. She voted once with an absentee ballot on July 13 and again at her polling place Aug. 14.
"It had been awhile and I didn't even remember," Schneider said. "I was shocked to death because I thought my absentee ballot was for the president."
Unfortunately, it appears that safeguards set up to prevent such an occurrence didn't work:
[Officer] Sandland's report pointed out that the letters "A.B." were next to Schneider's name in the voter roster book. Those letters show that an absentee ballot already had been cast, so [Schneider's daughter Eva] Moore is wondering why the election judge didn't stop Schneider before she signed the book and voted.
"That's what I told Travis when he told us about this," Moore said. "Who is in the wrong? The election judges for not checking or my mom?"
Schneider agreed."I think if I'm convicted, they should be convicted too. They knew I had voted already, so they shouldn't have let me vote."
Moreover, given the probable cause supported by documentary evidence, the county attorney is required by state law to prosecute voter fraud and can be removed from office for failure to do so. That doesn't mean that Ms. Schneider will be convicted; all criminal prosecutions require that the accused knowingly broke the law, which seems to be contradicted by the fact that Ms. Schnieder wasn't notified about her absentee ballot before voting at the polling place.
Believe it or not, though, that's not the end of the story. It appears that Ms. Schneider's case is stirring up some of the rancor that dominated last fall's unsuccessful campaign for a voter ID amendment to the state constitution. Minnesota Majority, which heavily supported the amendment, released a statement suggesting that ID opponents are using Ms. Schneider's story to weaken voter fraud protections:
It just so happens that right now at the Capitol, the County Attorneys Association is trying to shed that particular responsibility and make the investigation and prosecution of voter fraud cases optional, which raised red flags for Minnesota Majority.
"In Minnesota's election laws, in order for this to be a crime, the voter would have to have intent to vote more than once," said Minnesota Majority president Dan McGrath. "Is there probable cause that she deliberately, knowingly voted twice? If not, there's no crime. Prosecutors are trying to pretend that they have no choice but to prosecute in cases like this, but in reality, they have been making those decisions and choosing not to prosecute when intent can't be established for years under the current law" ...
"It may be that the county attorney is prosecuting Margaret Schneider in order to garner sympathy for her while inaccurately claiming the law that the County Attorneys Association happens to be lobbying to change compels her. It smacks of cold political calculation. The law doesn't need to be changed. If the prosecution can't prove that Schneider knowingly voted twice, she won't be convicted, and following the actions of other county attorneys and the law, probably should not have been charged," McGrath said.
The bottom line is that two people's likely honest mistakes - Ms. Schneider and the election judge who let her cast a second ballot in August - are dredging up ill will in the state at the moment when the Governor is calling for bipartisanship on election reform.
As sorry as I feel for Ms. Schneider, the prospect of renewed rancor interfering with reform is also a real tragedy for Minnesota.