The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 6, 2013

86-year-old St. Peter woman charged with voter fraud

By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer

ST PETER — Margaret Schneider will tell you life hasn’t been easy lately.

She 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. Schneider, 86, 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 with The Free Press 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.”

Schneider’s daughter, Eva Moore, signed the absentee ballot as a witness.

In most cases, she also would have given her mother a ride to her polling place during the Aug. 14 primary election. The weather was nice that day, however, and the polling place close to Schneider’s apartment, so Schneider walked up to vote on her own.

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 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.”

Michelle Zehnder Fischer, Nicollet County attorney, doesn’t comment on specific criminal cases. In general, though, she said in all cases when she is notified about a possible voter fraud incident she is required to have it investigated. If there is probable cause to show a crime occurred, she is required by state law to prosecute.

“Normally in criminal cases we have the ability to use discretion,” Fischer said.

She also said she could be required to forfeit her office if she doesn’t follow the law.

Moore said Sandland told her and her mother that investigators dug through statutes dating to the 1800s in an effort to get around charging Schneider. Sandland couldn’t be reached for comment.

“He was very polite about it,” Moore said. “He said he was sorry.”

Beth Fraser, director of government affairs for Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, said Fischer’s description of the voter fraud law is accurate.

It falls under statute 201.275, which says a county attorney who has been “notified by affidavit” of a voter fraud violation is required to investigate and — if there is any evidence found — prosecute.

The statute also says: “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.”

Fischer said she doesn’t remember who notified her about Schneider.

Bills are moving through the state Senate and House that would change the wording of the law so prosecutors have more discretion, Fraser said. The new bills would change the law so county attorneys can prosecute based on American Bar Association standards, which are used for other criminal cases.

Moore’s concerns about the fact her mother was allowed to vote are also valid, Fraser said. The purpose for adding the “A.B.” to the voting roster is to remind people when they’ve already voted with an absentee ballot.

“The election judges are supposed to see that and stop her,” Fraser said. “That’s why it’s there.”

Schneider is scheduled to make her first appearance for the felony charge April 2. She’s doesn’t plan to have an attorney with her.

“I don’t need one,” she said. “I did my civic duty. I’ve always voted. I have ever since I’ve been old enough.

“It was a mistake. I didn’t realize I had voted absentee until this all came out. It’s driving me crazy. I just wish it was all over with.”

Moore said her mother won’t have to worry about getting a ride to the courthouse so she can face the judge. She plans to be at her mother’s side.

“I have to take her, of course, and she’ll be shaking like a leaf,” she said. “It’s going to driver her nuts. I hope she doesn’t pass out.

“I think it’s kind of silly. There are a lot worse things to worry about out there. That’s just my opinion.”