Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan is investigating an allegation of voter fraud incidents which, according to the complainant, took place Friday at the Historic Crow Wing County Courthouse.
Monty Jensen, 29, of Crow Wing Township provided the Brainerd Dispatch with a copy of the complaint he filed Monday requesting the investigation. In that document he said he witnessed on Friday what appeared to be staff members from a facility for people with mental health problems who filled out a client's ballot and who verbally instructed a client who to vote for during absentee balloting.
Jensen, a Minnesota Army National Guard veteran and graduate of Pillager High School, said what he witnessed crossed the line of proper voter assistance and amounted to the manipulation and undue influence of vulnerable adults.
"What I saw wasn't right," he said in an interview. "I haven't been so irritated in a long time."
Jensen didn't know where specifically the voters came from.
Jensen said in an interview the person who appeared to be a group home staff member instructed the client to vote for DFL candidates.
He said Ryan phoned him later Monday and said he had assigned an investigator and that an investigation would begin immediately.
Ryan said in an interview individuals with mental health issues are allowed to vote unless a judge has taken away that right or the person has been declared incompetent. Those people also have the right to have someone assist them with the voting process, if necessary.
Ryan said his intent was to determine who may have been involved and what they may have done. Ryan, who expressed concern about coverage of this story, said there is a gray area relating to reading a ballot for a voter or telling a voter who to cast a ballot for.
The county attorney said his experience has been that the auditor's office management of elections has been above reproach.
"I think they do an awesome job," he said.
Jensen said someone from the auditor's office should have placed a call to the county attorney regarding what he thought was improper assistance.
Crow Wing County Auditor Deborah Erickson said Monday neither she nor her staff witnessed any actions that might have constituted improper assistance to a voter on Friday.
Erickson said every voter must either be registered or prove residency. It's not the auditor's staff's job to perceive what a person's ability or disability qualifies them to do, she said. Erickson said the law does provide for voters to receive assistance, if necessary. She said her office cross-references with the court system to see if a person's right to vote has been taken away by the courts.
In his complaint Jensen said he told a member of the auditor's office that group home staff members had done more than provide assistance to the voters she responded saying "You didn't even know the half of it, this is the fourth group today."
Erickson said she spoke with her staff and no one recalled making such a statement and no one recalled any additional group home bringing in voters that day.
Jensen said in his complaint, "These individuals had no idea where they even were let alone that they were voting. They were taken advantage of because of their disabilities, which is unacceptable."
Jensen estimated the majority of a group of about 15 to 25 people appeared to have mental health issues late Friday. Erickson estimated between eight and 12 people might have had mental health issues.
"We were quite busy," she said, estimating there could have been a total of about 25 people in the area, some of whom were conducting other business with the county.
Jensen was interviewed in a video on the Minnesota Freedom Council website and by several radio stations. He said his neighbor, Richard "George" Burton, a candidate for Congress, had suggested he contact the freedom council if he wanted to call attention to what he witnessed.
Sue Beck, community services director for Crow Wing County, estimated the county had about 46 four-bed group homes with people with mental health issues. With vacancies she estimated this might include about 177 people.
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