SAINT PETER, Minn. - An 86-year-old woman, who suffers from dementia, must be charged with voter fraud, according to the Nicollet County Attorney. Michelle Zehnder Fischer said prosecutors have no discretion in cases of alleged voter fraud, unlike other criminal cases.
Margaret Schneider, 86, Saint Peter apparently voted twice in the 2012 primary elections, once by absentee ballot and once, in person, at her local polling place. Ms. Schneider, the mother of 5 children, told Kare11's Allen Costantini that she suffers from Parkinson's disease and dementia.
Schneider said she has voted in every election since she was eligible to vote. "I thought that was my duty. I want to speak my mind when they come," said Schneider.
On July 13, 2012, Schneider voted by absentee ballot in her apartment with her daughter as her witness. Schneider said that she did not remember if she had voted for the person she intended to and so, she walked the half-block to her polling place in the Saint Peter Community Center to vote again.
The criminal complaint in the Nicollet County Court indicates that the election roster properly noted with an "AB" next to her name that Schneider had already voted absentee. However, the election official allowed her to vote again in person.
"The charge is voter fraud based upon the fact that the individual charged had voted twice in the primary elections," explained Zehnder Fischer. "Minnesota law, unlike other laws, or other areas of prosecution, provides that if there is probable cause to believe that if a person violated the voter laws, that the prosecutor must file charges or that individual (the prosecutor) is guilty of a crime himself and can forfeit office."
Asked if there were any charges pending against the election official who allowed Schneider to vote again, Zehnder Fischer would not comment on charging decisions other than to state "I am not aware of anything in the statute that would look at charging an election law judge with that kind of error."
Since the law requires that the alleged voter fraud be intentional, Zehnder Fischer pointed to a case older than Schneider herself.
"There is, actually, I believe, an 1800s case that states that is you vote twice, it is presumed that you intended to violate the law," said Zehnder Fischer.
Schneider is to appear in Nicollet County Court on April 2nd. She indicated to Costantini that she does not intend to intend to have legal representation. "I am not going to get a lawyer, because I do not need one. Because I do not think I did anything wrong. It was their fault and I voted," said Schneider. "I cannot afford one (a lawyer) anyway."
She would like it if the authorities would simply drop the charges. "I hope they do because I think it is silly! Look! If they knew it up there that I had an absentee ballot, why did they not tell me that?"
County Attorney Zehnder Fischer noted that while the statute "takes away my prosecutorial discretion to charge an individual, it does not take away my discretion in how to resolve and dispose of a criminal case that has been filed."
Zehnder Fischer said although the felony charges against Schneider carry a potential 5 year prison sentence and $10,000 fine upon conviction, she does not expect Schneider to spend a day in jail.
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