A follow-up on the alleged voting felons: three guilty pleas, 200-plus cases under review

Remember that Minnesota Majority report (PDF) released in June? In it, the group asserted that, according to its investigation, at least a couple of hundred felons, or those on probation from felonies, illegally voted on Nov. 4, 2008.

We followed up with Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond Monday and learned that two convicted felons recently pleaded guilty in Hennepin County District Court to voting when they were ineligible to do so in that election. A second charge of registering to vote when they were ineligible was dropped as part of the pleas.

They each received two years of probation and three days of community service and have to pay court costs.

So far, three felons in all have pleaded guilty to voting during the 2008 election; whom they voted for and what offices they voted for are unknown, Diamond said. A fourth person’s pre-trial hearing is set for later this month.

These violators came to the attention of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office from election officials, not from Minnesota Majority.

The more county officials investigate, the more difficult it is to prove that alleged felons voted, and — more importantly — that these folks who had lost their right to vote knew they were ineligible to vote when they did vote, Diamond told MinnPost.

Probation officers don’t always inform people that a loss of voting rights is part of being a convicted felon, and probation databases aren’t always up to date.

Diamond said he received 451 names from the Minnesota Majority. It was determined that 235 of those didn’t have a felony conviction or weren’t on felony probation on Election Day. That left 216 names to investigate, and that pile is being processed.

One typical case: A woman in Scott County was cited as a possible ineligible voter by Minnesota Majority. But, it turns out, there is a different woman with the same name who voted. The voter has even, on a few occasions, been mistakenly arrested for being the other woman.

Those sorts of “details” are the stuff of police work that must be completed before an alleged ineligible voter is brought to trial.

Thus, it’s not that easy to nail down these 2008 cases, although recent legislation will make it easier for the Secretary of State’s Office to match up voter registrations with Bureau of Criminal Apprehension data.

“People need to understand this: You can’t skip proof here,” said Diamond. “If a person wants their trial, there’s a 12-person jury, they have the right to remain silent and the state needs to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.”

Databases need to match. Birthdays need to match. And the alleged perpetrator needed to have been told that they weren’t eligible to vote. The fact that a convicted felon voted or a felon on probation voted “doesn’t necessarily amount to a prosecutable crime,” Diamond said.

Still, he and county attorney investigators are still wading through more than 200 of Minnesota Majority’s names. Interviews are under way. Paper work is being collected. He expects the process will be completed by the end of October.

We’ll check back again with him to see where it all led.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/03/2010 - 09:56 am.

    “…the alleged perpetrator needed to have been told that they weren’t eligible to vote.”

    Is this true? If so, it is the first time I’ve ever heard that ignorance of the law *is* a defense. It also begs the question “If this one law needs to be identified and explained, why not all laws?”

    Could this example be used to defend against an accusation of violating any obscure law?

    Also, how many of the cases under investigation involved absentee voting? The Democrat party rained absentee ballots upon it’s demographic population in ’08, and is doing so this time around as well.

    Seems to me that this is worth a bit of journalistic investigation…how about it, Jay?

  2. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 08/03/2010 - 10:11 am.

    Any cop will tell you that ignorance of the law is no defense. After Patricia Hearst’s sentence was commuted by President Carter she asked if she could vote (she could).

    Ex-cons may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer but they have plenty of time to learn “the ropes” in prison. Election judges are trained to be discreet so a simple question of eligibility to vote as felon could solve the information problem.

    Felons attempting to vote fits my category of “beyond stupid”. This is where someone games the system or tests the limits and then “plays dumb”.

    There may be a few cases of “double identity” but these will tend to be rare anecdotal events. As for the jury trial with a public defender argument this is a red herring. Any felon knows that a guilty verdict in a jury trial means a far longer sentence. If nailed most felons will plea bargain a lighter sentence. 90% of guiltys are plea bargains so felons know this game.

    Finally, there is a conflict of interest with the primarily democratic District Attorneys looking into a group that is likely to vote highly democratic.

  3. Submitted by Tim Walker on 08/03/2010 - 10:42 am.

    Greg (#2) wrote: “Finally, there is a conflict of interest with the primarily democratic District Attorneys looking into a group that is likely to vote highly democratic.”

    Give us a citation to back up this highly incendiary comment.

    Otherwise, I call horse poopies on it.

  4. Submitted by John Edwards on 08/03/2010 - 11:47 am.

    The ebb and flow of this issue is interesting. Prior to Obama’s election in 2008, Robert Kennedy Jr. and other Democrats clearly envisioned not only election fraud but also conflict of interest by election overseers. This is from a statement on fraud from Kennedy’s website http://www.rfkin2008:

    Well, allow me to introduce you to a man named Kenneth Blackwell. He’s the former Republican Secretary of State in Ohio…..As such, Blackwell’s job was to administer an impartial election. But he had another portfolio that year–Ohio chair of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. If that sounds like a conflict of interest, it was. And Blackwell—-having earned his stripes as a top Bush-Cheney official during the notorious Florida recount of 2000– exploited it with relish. In the run-up to the 2004 elections, Blackwell—known in Ohio as a partisan Republican zealot—allowed 300,000 voters to be expunged from the registration rolls, including almost one in four voters in predominantly Democratic Cleveland.

    If Blackwell is not impartial in overseeing elections, is it also possible that Hennepin County Attorney and strong DFLer Mike Freeman is an equally zealous politician, resulting in a less-than-vigorous voter fraud investigation? Moreover, I am still baffled why the Republicans did not succeed in manipulating the voting machines in 2008 as they must have done in 2000 and 2004.

  5. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 08/03/2010 - 12:28 pm.

    Even with 200 illegal voters — which I don’t for a half a second believe were all illegal — is miniscule in terms of ANY human endeavor out of a group of 2.9 million. If the Republicans dominated the 2008 elections like the Democrats did, there would be no Minnesota Majority looking into suspect voters.

    A citizens’ group chasing down “possible” election fraud is a fool’s task and a fool’s subject. But hyper-conservatives don’t trust people unless they believe EXACTLY like they do. They don’t trust teachers, judges, economists, or any other professionals or experts. Only fact-free people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann are crazy enough to earn this loony group’s trust.

    Leave it to the pros. They’ve been working on it all along. And it’s relatively simple. Find the person and find out if they are a felon. They’ll get to the bottom of it much better than an obviously biased group that sees bogeymen at every turn.

  6. Submitted by Tim Walker on 08/03/2010 - 12:35 pm.

    To John (#4): And the cite demonstrating that felons are “likely to vote highly democratic” is coming … when?

    In case I wasn’t clear, that’s the point of Greg’s post (#2) that I was calling incendiary.

    Whether partisan secretaries of state can influence elections inappropriately is a separate question.

  7. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 08/03/2010 - 01:14 pm.

    Why can’t MN election laws be simple, straight forward, and to the point? When I went to school and studied ‘civics’ [political science], one of the first things learned about elections is that the American right to vote was not only Constitutionally guaranteed but was a sacred right. The only way to lose this sacred right was to be a convicted felon, traitor, or have adjudicated non-citizen status.

    How and why did these simple tenets on voting get so discombobulated and/or convoluted? If you are a convicted, unpardoned felon then you don’t vote, forever, period! You lost your right to vote by virtue of your conviction.Ignorance of this fact is no excuse.

    It seems like Minnesota political ne’er-do-wells love belly-aching over every transgression in the system but offer no concise solution to make amends to it. The present MN system of voter registration, absentee voting, and election standards needs some streamlining, revamping, and modern safeguards to avoid controversies that permeate every election.

    Forget the political correctness bologna [BS] and the political in-fighting that goes with reforming something simple like election law reform. It’s straight forward, forthright, and simple. Let’s put Minnesota back on the top for election honesty and results. It’s that easy. That’s no joke. Other entities have done it and found great results.

  8. Submitted by Christopher Moseng on 08/03/2010 - 01:56 pm.

    Messrs. Swift and Lang, one look at the statute will clarify for you why the prosecutor is looking for evidence the felon was told they couldn’t vote: “Any individual who votes who knowingly is not eligible to vote is guilty of a felony.” Minn. Stat. §201.014.

    The law requires a specific knowledge beyond simply the act of voting-while-a-felon. So in this particular circumstance, as with any criminal statute requiring “knowledge,” a certain kind of ignorance is an excuse. It’s more than an excuse, it’s an absolute defense.

    It’s just this sort of armchair police work that creates all sorts of busywork for government officials—people that probably have more productive things to do with their public charge than to vet a politically motivated and hastily-contrived and list of names and specious allegations. Of course, when the list doesn’t result in prosecutions, that just creates more political targets for the Machiavellian ideologues behind the whole trumped-up charade. The facts be damned.

  9. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 08/03/2010 - 02:07 pm.

    The fact that a convicted felon voted or a felon on probation voted “doesn’t necessarily amount to a prosecutable crime,” Diamond said.

    It may not be a crime, but would it be an invalid vote?

  10. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 08/03/2010 - 02:21 pm.

    # 4 — As you say, it is an “ebb and flow” … of zealotry! But it is never neap tide for republicans.

  11. Submitted by Christopher Moseng on 08/03/2010 - 03:02 pm.

    Mr. Gotzman, how do you propose to retroactively invalidate a vote cast by an ineligible person? Ask them to pretty please tell us honestly who they voted for?

    The time for contesting the election has come and gone. There was a whole legal process for that, which was already conducted and came very publicly to a conclusion.

  12. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 08/03/2010 - 03:07 pm.

    Another expensive pointless chase down the rabbit hole. And we are paying for it.
    I wish these people would attend to this country’s real problems instead of chasing after red herrings, fantasies, and fairy tales. When do they get serious in light of the economy, 2 wars, foreclosures, homelessness, joblessness, the warming climate–you name it.

  13. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 08/03/2010 - 04:15 pm.

    So the real story is Minnesota Majority produced data that was shown mostly wrong right at the start, and now local officials will spend months on the rest of it when it’s almost guaranteed worthless. Nobody in the media should give them the least credibility ever again.

  14. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/03/2010 - 04:28 pm.

    When the Boy repeatedly cried “wolf” just to get a rise out of his neighbors and to get attention, people stopped listening. Then when there really was a wolf, he was killed by it.

    Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for our conservative friends: keep trumpeting these b.s. allegations to the moon, keep the weasel news noise machine screaming about them, keep coming up with new ones every time the latest one is revealed to be b.s. and eventually everyone (except your most paranoid followers) stops listening.

    The time may come, however, when you really DO have critically important points to raise that may make a serious difference in the life of our nation. There may come a time when there really is something dangerous going on. At the rate you’re going, when you scream your alarm to the heavens at that future time of danger, EVERYONE will simply assume it’s just more of the same old b.s.

  15. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 08/03/2010 - 05:34 pm.

    Christopher,

    I did not propose anything.

    We all should be concerning that in future elections every legitimate vote should count.

  16. Submitted by Mark Raabe on 08/03/2010 - 08:44 pm.

    Just to be clear (since there seems to be a bit of misinformation in the comments here), in Minnesota convicted felons don’t lose their voting rights forever. They get them back after completion of their sentence (including any periods of probation or parole). Here’s the law:

    “609.165 RESTORATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS; POSSESSION OF FIREARMS.

    “Subdivision 1. Restoration. When a person has been deprived of civil rights by reason of conviction of a crime and is thereafter discharged, such discharge shall restore the person to all civil rights and to full citizenship, with full right to vote and hold office, the same as if such conviction had not taken place, and the order of discharge shall so provide.”

    Only 12 states remove voting rights permanently, and then only for certain crimes (the list of which differs from state to state).

    For the facts, see http://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=286

  17. Submitted by Rebecca Battey on 08/17/2010 - 11:35 pm.

    MINNESOTA VOTER’S BILL OF RIGHTS (M.S. 204C.08, subd. 1b)

    For all persons residing in this state who meet federal voting eligibility requirements:

    1. You have the right to be absent from work for the purpose of voting without reduction to your pay, personal leave, or vacation time on election day for the time necessary to appear at your polling place, cast a ballot, and return to work.
    2. If you are in line at your polling place any time before 8:00 p.m., you have the right to vote.
    3. If you can provide the required proof of residence, you have the right to register to vote and to vote on election day.
    4. If you are unable to sign your name, you have the right to orally confirm your identity with an election judge and to direct another person to sign your name for you.
    5. You have the right to request special assistance when voting.
    6. If you need assistance, you may be accompanied into the voting booth by a person of your choice, except by an agent of your employer or union or a candidate.
    7. You have the right to bring your minor children into the polling place and into the voting booth with you.
    8. If you have been convicted of a felony but your felony sentence has expired (been completed) or you have been discharged from your sentence, you have the right to vote.
    9. If you are under a guardianship, you have the right to vote, unless the court order revokes your right to vote.
    10. You have the right to vote without anyone in the polling place trying to influence your vote.
    11. If you make a mistake or spoil your ballot before it is submitted, you have the right to receive a replacement ballot and vote.
    12. You have the right to file a written complaint at your polling place if you are dissatisfied with the way an election is being run.
    13. You have the right to take a sample ballot into the voting booth with you.
    14. You have the right to take a copy of this Voter’s Bill of Rights into the voting booth with you.

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