By Dan Nienaber
---- — MANKATO — An Austin man serving prison time allegedly found a way to cast an absentee ballot in a primary election in St. Peter in January and is now facing a felony voter fraud charge.
Representatives from the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office contacted Bridgette Kennedy, Nicollet County auditor and treasurer, in February to report that Marieo Joneth Olivayes, 32, had cast an illegal vote in a Jan. 29 primary election. The report was turned over to a St. Peter police detective who confirmed that Olivayes was serving a prison sentence for first-degree assault and wasn't scheduled to finish his parole obligations until April 2017.
The detective also learned that Olivayes had faxed a request for an absentee ballot to the the auditor's office on Jan. 16 and a ballot was mailed to him at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter on Jan. 18, according to a criminal complaint filed in Nicollet County District Court.
His application to register as a voter and his ballot were returned to the auditor sometime between Jan. 21-28. Olivayes had signed a portion of the application that said he was not a convicted felon or, if he was, his rights to vote had been restored, the complaint said. He had voted in a DFL primary election for District 19A, which was won by now state Rep. Clark Johnson of North Mankato.
Kennedy said Wednesday that there are inmates at the Security Hospital who are eligible to vote because they have not been convicted of a felony or have had their voting rights restored. So it is not uncommon for the county to receive requests for absentee ballots from that address, she said.
When Olivayes was interviewed by the detective, he allegedly admitted to applying for and casting an absentee ballot early this year. He told the detective that he thought he was casting a vote to decide who would be in charge of the Security Hospital. Olivayes also said he didn't realize he was ineligible to vote, the complaint said.
Olivayes was arrested in February 2009 after he assaulted a man in a bar bathroom in Austin. He pleaded guilty to a first-degree assault charge in May 2011, but by that time he was already being treated at the Security Hospital.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison, but District Court Judge Donald Rysavy's sentence order said Olivayes could remain in the Security Hospital. It also said he would be required to serve the remainder of his sentence in prison if he was released from the hospital. He has been at the state prison in Rush City since May.
In April of this year an 86-year-old woman with Parkinson's disease and dementia was charged with voter fraud for voting twice, once by absentee ballot and once in person, at a 2012 primary election in St. Peter. That charge resulted in a diversion agreement that wiped the charge off the woman's record.