Last year, around election day, I posted a piece of video from Crow Wing County. Monty Jensen, a disabled veteran, recounted seeing a group of disabled people being, he alleges, coached through the process of voting (not illegal), and, Jensen claimed, having their ballots filled out for them. Which is not illegal if it involves assisting a voter with exercising their wishes re their own legal franchise – nobody, least of all Jensen, has ever argued this.
But it is illegal if it’s a case of glorified ballot stuffing – say, if someone “assists” someone who is mentally-incompetent and not legally allowed to vote.
But when we last looked at this story, we met Jim Stene, a resident of the Clark Lake Group Home in Brainerd. And according to his father, Al Stene, there is nothing ambiguous about the fact that Jim should not be voting.
Now Fox News’ Eric Shawn is on the story – and in the report, it seems there’s nothing ambiguous to Al Stene about his son’s state:
Minnesota resident Jim Stene voted last November — and thought he was casting his ballot for President Gerald Ford.
“He was exploited, plain and simple. He was exploited,” his father, Alan Stene, charges. “This is a moral and ethical issue.”
Jim Stene, 35, suffers from anoxic encephalopathy, severe brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. He has lived with the condition since 1987, when, as a 12-year-old boy, he jumped into a river to save the life of his drowning sister, Heather.
Jim Stene’s story is tragic enough.
Stene had spent the last 15 years living in a group home in Brainerd, Minn. He and other residents of the home were taken to the Crow Wing County auditor’s office on Oct. 29 to vote by absentee ballot. Minnesota is among the states that offer early voting by absentee ballot days before Election Day.
In an affidavit, Stene’s father charges that “a voter crime was committed … because James is mentally incompetent and is very coachable.”
He fears his son, and others like him across the country, could be used to swing elections.
“They are a forgotten member of our society, I think, to where people can exploit them because nobody really knows what goes on behind the scenes,” Alan Stene said.
“I felt that he was used as a pawn.”
Shawn reportedly spent quite a bit of time with Jim Stene over a weekend in Brainerd in February. I’ve added emphasis:
Fox News met Stene at a private residence, with his sister beside him, and asked him about voting. While his words came slowly, he clearly understood the conversation, smiling and trying to do his best to answer. When asked who he voted for, he answered quietly, “Ford.” Gerald Ford? Stene nodded in the affirmative.
He was unable to name the candidates or any current elected officials, and he said a worker at the group home where he lived told him for whom to vote. They didn’t move his hand or mark it for him, he said, “just told me who to vote for.” He “did not have a clue” about the person he voted for. And when asked to identify the current president, he said, “Bush, I think.”
The owner of the chain of group homes where Stene lived denies the charges:
“Did Clark Lake (Group Home), on a whim, decide to take this person and sneak them down to the poll? Absolutely not. It’s so ridiculous, it’s absurd,” [Lynn Peterson, owner of the Clark Lake Group Homes where Stene lived] told Fox News.
“As a provider, what did I do? I gave him a ride to the polls and I gave him a ride home.” Peterson says Stene and several others voted in full view of local county election workers, and he affirmed that he and his staff were supporting the legal right of their residents to cast a ballot, the same as people without disabilities.
“As a provider, my job is to provide assistance to handicapped people if they choose to vote,” said Peterson. “At no time were they to be assisted in how to vote.”
Stene – and Monty Jensen, and his girlfriend – claim otherwise. Those claims would seem to warrant an investigation…
…which was done, more or less. The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s department investigated the claims – in a line of questioning that led them to talk with Monty Jensen’s estranged father, with whom Jensen hasn’t spoken in years and who was utterly unconnected to the case, but somehow did not lead them to talk with Monty Jensen’s girlfriend.
[Peterson] added that he thinks a care provider should be “somebody that is going to be an advocate, a strong advocate for the people with a disability that have the ability to participate with the voting process or any other process in the community.”
But Stene’s family disagrees.
“Jim is not capable of making those type of decisions, to know what the candidates are and what the issues are,” his father said. And his sister said she “could not believe this was even an issue” and that he was taken to vote.
As she sat next to her sibling who saved her life, tears welled up.
“I just don’t think that he is competent enough,” she said. “I mean, he is my brother and I love him very, very much, and that’s why I personally go vote.”
She also said she “is glad it has gotten this far because there will be more recognition for other people, and for my brother. He has the right for who he wants to vote for, but I honestly don’t think he could vote.” Peterson says Jim Stene wanted to vote. Stene told Fox News he was not asked if he wanted to vote.
In Minnesota, only a judge can determine if a person is incompetent to vote and take away that right. That has not happened in Stene’s case.
So the question is not “was Stene disenfranchised”; the question is “was he exploited by the staff at his group home?”
Read the rest of Shawn’s story.