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Voter fraud charges have been filed against two Somali women who say they didn’t realize they voted twice in the general election last November.

Farhiya Abdi Dool, 38, and Amina A Hassan, 31, each face one felony charge for voting once by absentee ballot and once at a polling place during the 2012 general election. The women, both naturalized U.S. citizens, were charged June 21 via complaint summons and will make their first appearances in Rice County District Court next Monday.

Neither woman has an attorney listed in court documents as representing them. But supporters of Dool’s say that her actions were an honest mistake that shouldn’t be punished with a felony charge.

Each woman faces five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the offense.

According to the criminal complaints, Dool and Hassan had registered to vote and completed voter registration applications at the Rice County Auditor’s Office on Nov. 5, 2012. The auditor’s office also has record of Dool and Hassan voting by absentee ballot that day.

Dool and Hassan each completed another voter registration application the next day, Election Day, at their polling location and signed the roster of new registrants, according to the complaint. They also voted at that time.

Dool told a Rice County sergeant in February that her intention was only to register at the Rice County Government Services building and that she didn’t realize she had voted.

Hassan’s comments to the sergeant were very similar. Through a Somali interpreter, she recalled going to the government building to register and vote, according to the complaint. But she said she later heard that she was supposed to go to a polling location to vote, so she did.

Hassan said she had asked at the polling location if it was a problem if she had just voted but that a woman told her it was “no problem,” according to the complaint. The conversation went through an interpreter.

Angel Manjarrez, coordinator of the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project with the American Civil Liberties Union in Mankato, said Monday that both women may have a defense against the charges if the prosecutor can’t prove the women intended to vote twice.

“The law requires proof that the individual intentionally voted twice in the same election,” Manjarrez said. “It is troubling that this process seemed to have broken down twice in Rice County.”

Manjarrez also said there are procedures in place that are supposed to prevent anyone from receiving a ballot on Election Day when they have already voted absentee. Rice County Auditor Fran Windschitl acknowledged those procedures — a list of absentee voters is sent to each polling place so those names get crossed off the roster.

But the polls get hectic come Election Day, Windschitl said, and it “must have been just an oversight” in Dool and Hassan’s instances.

“But I don’t know any place that allows in their elections a person to vote twice for their leaders,” Windschitl added.

Dool and Hassan’s incidents were two of about 25 cases of suspected voter fraud forwarded by the auditor’s office to the sheriff’s office for investigation on Jan. 31, according to Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster.

Of those, just two — Dool and Hassan — have been charged criminally.

“Our laws are pretty clear that you only get to vote once, and we enforce that law,” Beaumaster said Monday afternoon. He said the other suspected cases were determined to be people with the same name or a “Senior” and a “Junior” living at the same address.

Beaumaster declined to comment on the specific cases, only saying that he has never heard mistake as a defense for voting twice.

He pointed to the recent voter fraud case in Nicollet County where an 86-year-old woman with dementia had forgotten that she filled out an absentee ballot and then gone to vote on Election Day.

The case was later dismissed.

“In that case, there was clearly no intent represented,” Beaumaster said. “That was different.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Rodenborg at 333-3128, or follow her on Twitter.com @FDNRebecca

Reach reporter Rebecca Rodenborg at 333-3128, or follow her on Twitter.com @FDNRebecca

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