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More voter fraud charges filed amid concerns over voter intimidation

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Hennepin County's top prosecutor said Tuesday that 47 people will be charged with voter fraud stemming from the 2008 general election.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said 43 of the cases involve felons who were ineligible to vote, and four cases involve double voting. Thirteen of the cases had been announced previously.

Freeman said the voter fraud cases represent a tiny fraction of all ballots cast in the 2008 general election, which is when President Barack Obama was elected. He also said that despite the charges, investigators didn't find evidence of people working together to commit voter fraud. 

"There was no organized or coordinated effort to induce improper voting.  There was no involvement of any campaign or any candidate.  And there were no cases charged of non-citizens improperly voting," Freeman said.

The charges came after a group called Minnesota Majority raised concerns about voter fraud in Minnesota. The group contacted the Hennepin County Attorney's Office last year with a list of more than 1,250 names of people accused of voter fraud. At least 800 of those were accused of voting as felons.

  Of those, Freeman said there was enough evidence to charge 47 of them.

Dan McGrath, Minnesota Majority's executive director, said he believes far more people committed voter fraud than were charged. But he said one reason for the low number of charges was that some probation offices failed to have felons sign a form saying they understood they were ineligible to vote. 

  "If the county prosecutors don't have that document, they have a harder time proving it in court -- and a lot of times just don't bring it at all," McGrath said. 

McGrath said Minnesota Majority has also sent prosecutors in St. Louis and Crow Wing counties the names of people the group believes committed voter fraud.

The announcement of the charges came as voting rights advocates said they're concerned about evidence of voter intimidation in this year's election. 

Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison held a press conference Tuesday to condemn efforts by groups that he says are trying to intimidate potential voters.

Ellison said posters showing a person in handcuffs, with the warning that "voter fraud is a felony," have been hung in areas where students congregate. 

McGrath confirmed that his group is part of a coalition that paid for the posters. The other members of the Election Integrity Watch are the North Star Tea Party Patriots and the Minnesota Voters Alliance.

Besides the posters, the Election Integrity Watch plans to observe voting during the Nov. 2 election, and is also offering a $500 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone organizing a fraudulent voting effort.

Ellison said the posters were a coordinated effort to harass voters and keep them from going to the polls, and he urged everyone who is eligible to vote to cast a ballot. 

  "We urge them to participate, especially students, especially communities who have historically been excluded from the vote,"  Ellison said. "We have this great tradition of voter participation in America and in Minnesota, and we want to keep it up."  

Ellison and voting rights advocates said they planned to dispatch volunteers to "counter vote suppression tactics." 

McGrath defended efforts by the Election Integrity Watch, saying organizers are not trying to intimidate voters.

  "I don't see how anyone could be intimidated by it unless you're up to no good," he said. "We're just there to watch."

  (MPR reporters Jessica Mador and Dan Olson contributed to this report.)