Minnesota’s Voting Fraud Menace: Margaret Schneider, Crookster

UpDate from The UpTake, 1:38 p.m. April 2: In a victory for common sense, the charge of voter fraud brought against 86-year-old Margaret Schneider of St. Peter, Minn., was dismissed Tuesday. Click here to read the story from the Mankato Free Press.

It turns out that the menacing specter of Voter Fraud — a nightmare scenario carried into every corner of Minnesota by conservative activists pushing for passage last fall of a Constitutional amendment requiring voters to produce photo identification — is real!

Until now, proof of an active vote-frauding population – dead nuns showing up at the polls, escaped cons standing in line for hours to vote for judges who are soft on crime, that sort of thing – has been noticeably lacking. One result: November’s surprise defeat at the polls of a GOP-backed effort to put Photo ID into the Minnesota Constitution. But now, just four months later, a daring, nose-thumbing, crooked-vote casting scofflaw has been run to ground, proving at last that the problem is not imaginary, but all-too real. We are not talking unicorns. We are talking Margaret Schneider, pensioner.

Somewhat disappointingly for the voter suppression crowd, however, the culprit was not an undocumented Latino immigrant, a militant Black Panther in North Minneapolis or a card-carrying Communist professor from Powderhorn. No, it was an 86-year-old white woman in rural Saint Peter, Minn., who inadvertently voted twice in last August’s primary election.

She should probably get a medal for voting twice at all in the primary, an election so boring that only 9 percent of Minnesota voters bothered going to the polls. But Mrs. Scneider, attending to her civic duty, voted twice : Once by absentee ballot she mailed to Nicollet County elections officials a month before the primary, and once in person, at the poll.

She couldn’t help it.

On election day, succumbing to media messages that it was everyone’s duty to vote, Margaret — who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and dementia — got a ride to the polls and was given a second ballot despite the fact that the letters “AB” appeared next to her name on the voter rolls, indicating she had voted by absentee ballot in July.

“If I can remember correctly, we’ve always voted at the Armory, which is about three miles away,” Margaret told The UpTake. “I knew I wouldn’t get there, so I wrote an absentee ballot, they tell me. The clerk didn’t stop me from voting, and I voted again.

“I think they should forget it because the clerk had an ‘AB’ after my name, and she still let me vote,” Margaret says. “Don’t you think that was partly her fault? I think they ought to be able to tell people they’ve (already) voted absentee when they forget.”

Margaret admits she has trouble with her memory: “I have a very poor memory,” she told us. “If you come back in a week or two, I probably wouldn’t even know you … When you’re 86, you can’t remember a lot of stuff.”

Schneider, who lives off her Social Security, takes comfort from her friends at the nearby Senior Center and at her church, who are praying for her as she faces an April 2 court appearance on a felony charge of voter fraud. County Attorney Michelle Fischer has, for the time being, decided that state election laws give her no choice but to charge Schneider.

Minnesota Majority’s Dan McGrath helped engineer the Republicans’ ill-fated ballot amendment to require Voter ID — which critics said would have made voting more difficult for senior citizens, active-duty military, the disabled and minorities. In a press release issued after Margaret Schneider got her comeuppance, McGrath floated an intriguing new conspiracy theory: Maybe, he suggested, just maybe the Nicollet County Attorney is prosecuting 86-year-old widows in order to create a negative reaction that will allow the County Attorneys Association to push for loosening the voting laws in Minnesota. McGrath calls Schneider “an unwitting pawn.”

Not a very nice thing to say about a lady.

Like many Minnesotans, who routinely go to the polls in nation-leading numbers, Schneider believes it’s her duty to vote. A Democrat, she voted to re-elect President Obama. However, in a twist of irony, she also voted for the Voter ID and Marriage Restriction constitutional amendments put forth by Republicans. Both ballot measures failed in November.

“I’ve always voted,” she said. “I vote so I can complain if they don’t do what I want them to do.”

Many voters feel that way, of course. But now Margaret Schneider has a unique reason to complain: The prospect of going to the Big House for just trying to do her duty.

“I went to play cards at the Senior Center on Friday, and they made a card for me telling me they were praying for me,” said Schneider, choking up. “I just wish it was over with. I wish they’d drop it, because I don’t think it should be such a problem.

“I made a mistake.”

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Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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