Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 11, 2013

86-year-old voter charged with fraud for casting two ballots


CNHI

— ST PETER, Minn. — A senior intent on doing her civic duty during faces a felony charge because she cast a ballot at her polling place last Aug. 14, forgetting that she'd already voted absentee a month earlier.

Police and prosecutors seem willing to chalk up Margaret Schneider's two votes to a memory lapse. But state laws that required a police investigation into Schneider's case also demand a charge be brought, lest the district attorney herself be charged and removed from office.

“It was a mistake. I didn’t realize I had voted absentee until this all came out," said Schneider, 86. "It’s driving me crazy. I just wish it was all over with.”

Schneider readily admits that she's a victim of senior moments. She's been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and dementia is one of her symptoms. Nor does she deny what happened.

She voted absentee in a state primary election last July 13, and her daughter, Eva Moore, signed the ballot as a witness.

Typically, when Schneider votes in person, Moore gives her mother a ride to the polls. But the weather was nice that Election Day in August, and the precinct is close to Schneider's apartment, so she decided to walk.

Travis Sandland, a police detective who investigated, noted in a report that the letters "A.B." appeared next to Schneider's name in the voter roster, indicating she'd cast an absentee ballot. It's unclear why Schneider was allowed to vote anyway.

“The election judges are supposed to see that and stop her,” said Beth Fraser, director of government affairs for Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Michelle Zehnder Fischer, the Nicollet County attorney, doesn’t comment on specific cases but noted she is required to investigate all possible cases of voter fraud. Though given discretion in criminal cases, Fischer said she's required to prosecute if she finds probable cause in a voting fraud case.

Sandland, the detective, told Schneider that investigators had dug through statutes dating to the 1800s, looking for a way to get around charging her, according to Moore.

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

Bills before the state legislature would change Minnesotta's law to give prosecutors more latitude, said Fraser.

Schneider, who is visibly stressed by the charge against her, is scheduled to make a court appearance on April 2. She said she won't need an attorney.

“I did my civic duty," she said. "I’ve always voted. I have ever since I’ve been old enough."

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Details for this story were reported by The Free Press of Mankato, Minn.