Election Law

Elderly woman with dementia faces felony charge for voting twice; was prosecutor obligated to act?

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An 86-year-old Minnesota woman with dementia is facing a felony charge of voter fraud because she voted twice in the primary election.

Margaret Schneider of St. Peter, Minn., now admits she voted twice—once by an absentee ballot in July that was witnessed by her daughter, and then again in August at a polling place a short distance from her home, report the Mankato Free Press, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and KARE 11. “It was my mistake,” she told the Star Tribune. “I’m heartsickened by it.”

The election judge apparently missed an “A.B.” abbreviation near Schneider’s name indicating that she had cast an absentee ballot, the stories say.

It’s unclear from press reports if Schneider forgot about the absentee ballot, or if she thought the in-person vote would cancel out the absentee ballot. She told the Star Tribune she forgot, told the Free Press she forgot and she thought the absentee ballot was for president, and told KARE 11 she voted in August because she couldn’t remember if she had voted for the person she wanted to vote for.

Schneider has Parkinson’s disease and dementia is a symptom, according to the Free Press.

Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer told KARE11 that Minnesota law gives her no choice but to bring charges. She points to a statute regarding voter eligibility that requires county attorneys to “promptly investigate” alleged violations and, if there is probable cause, to “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.”

Bills pending in the Minnesota legislature would give prosecutors more discretion in voter fraud cases, according to Beth Fraser, director of government affairs for the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office. She told the Star Tribune the changes would allow county attorneys to prosecute based on ABA standards used for other criminal cases.

Schneider is scheduled to appear in court on April 2.

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