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Women charged with voting while ineligible

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WILLMAR -- Two Willmar woman face felony charges for voting in the November 2008 election while they were ineligible to vote.

Eileen Carol Klinghagen, 62, and Michele Ann McDowell, 36, are both charged in Kandiyohi County District Court. Klinghagen appeared in court Monday and her next appearance is an omnibus hearing on Dec. 30. McDowell's next appearance, also an omnibus hearing, is Nov. 24.

According to the complaints against the women, both voted in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election in the county while they were not eligible to vote because they had been convicted of a felony and their civil rights had not been restored.

According to District Court and Tribune records, McDowell was sentenced in August 2002 on a theft by swindle charge for stealing $12,000 by making improper returns while working at J.C. Penney in the Kandi Mall. Her sentence included serving 60 days in jail, paying a $50 fine and $12,060.82 in restitution and serving 100 hours of community service work.

Court records show that McDowell finished paying the restitution and fine in March 2009 and was discharged from probation in April 2009.

Klinghagen was originally sentenced to 21 months in prison, which was stayed, 60 days in jail, five years of probation and 15 hours of community service each week for a year in April 2005. The sentence was for a second-degree assault charge and a fleeing a peace officer charge for attempting to run over a Kandiyohi County sheriff's deputy in 2003.

She was resentenced, essentially to the same sentence, in November 2006. The resentencing came after the county attorney's office appealed to the state Court of Appeals.

Klinghagen was also convicted of first-degree arson in August 2005, for attempting to burn down the rural Willmar home from where she was being evicted. The deputy involved in the assault case was attempting to serve her with eviction papers.

Court records show that she was discharged from probation and had her voting rights restored, in that case, in August of this year.

According to Kandiyohi County Auditor Sam Modderman, the state identifies voters who are convicted of a felony and county voter rolls are marked accordingly, notifying election judges that the person does not have the right to vote because their rights are not restored. Correspondingly, when someone's right to vote is restored, county officials are notified of that change and the rolls are updated.

If it happens that a person's rights are restored, when they have completed their sentence or probation period, and they are still marked with an "F" for felon on the voter roll, the person can prove they have the right to vote, Modderman said. The person must provide documentation, such as the letter received when voting rights are restored, to election judges.

The County Auditor's Office has been in contact with the Secretary of State's office regarding such inquiries into the November 2008 election, Modderman said. However, he does not recall contact with other groups regarding the last election.

Minnesota Majority, a conservative group, is alleging that hundreds of felons who were ineligible to vote did vote or register to vote in 2008. Research by the group into state voting and corrections data found 20 voters in Kandiyohi County may have illegally voted in the election. However, that information was not vetted, according to a Minnesota Majority spokesman.

According to data from the Secretary of State's office, as of 7 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2008, there were 24,736 registered voters in Kandiyohi County. The county results show that 21,190 people voted for the presidential candidates in that election.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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