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Published October 23 2010

5 charged in Clay County with felony voter fraud say they didn't know they couldn't vote

Five convicted felons told Clay County authorities they voted in the 2008 general election, but each also said they didn’t know they weren’t allowed to vote.

According to complaints filed in Clay County District Court on Thursday, the five came under scrutiny in July – nearly two years after the general election that drew national attention for a lengthy and contentious recount battle in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race.

Democrat Al Franken eventually ousted GOP incumbent Norm Coleman by just 312 votes, after a court battle and recount effort that spanned eight months.

Speculations of voter fraud from that election have made headlines in recent months, with the Minnesota Republican Party and a public interest group known as Minnesota Majority seeking to reveal cases where felons allegedly voted illegally.

The Clay County Attorney’s Office announced Friday that the following people were charged with felony voting registration violations:

Each faces a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

They are set to make their first court appearance Nov. 4 in Clay County District Court.

County authorities were initially alerted to the case by Minnesota Majority and the state GOP.

The sheriff’s office investigated the allegations and determined that Lampl, Megran, Brown, Poitra and Ek voted illegally based on being convicted felons.

Several others were determined to not have voted during the election or determined to have had their civil rights restored, according to the county attorney’s office.

Clay County Auditor Lori Johnson said it’s possible for felons to slip through the cracks, depending on how they register to vote.

The auditor’s office is notified when someone is convicted of a felony, and that individual’s voting record is marked. If that person pre-registered, then their voting record would have been challenged at the polls, Johnson said.

But if that same person didn’t register until going on Election Day – which is allowed in Minnesota – election officials wouldn’t be able to catch it right away because “there would be no way for us to know that,” Johnson said.

Clay County Attorney Brian Melton said there is no reason to believe these individuals’ actions were politically motivated.

“In their mind, they ­didn’t know they couldn’t (vote),” Melton said.

However, each signed a probation agreement that acknowledged they weren’t allowed to vote, serve on a jury or hold public office until their civil rights were restored, Melton said.

“Felons convicted of a crime don’t have the same rights as other people,” Melton said. “It’s just an issue that you don’t want felons voting. … We have an election going forward, and you don’t want felons voting in future elections.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541