The case of ‘zombie’ voters in South Carolina

at 06:00 AM ET, 07/25/2013

“We just recently learned that there are over 900 individuals who had died before the election (and had voted) and at least 600 of those individuals had died way outside the window that an absentee ballot could have been sent, so we know for a fact that there are deceased people whose identities are being used in elections in South Carolina.”

— South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson (R), on Fox News, Jan. 21, 2012

“We found out that there were over 900 people who died and then subsequently voted. That number could be even higher than that.”

— Wilson, on Fox News, Jan. 12, 2012

“Without Photo ID, let’s be clear, I don’t want dead people voting in the state of South Carolina.”

— South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), in an interview that aired on Fox News, April 21, 2012

We don’t normally delve into statements so long after they were made, but this is an unusual case, brought to our attention by a reader.

Take a look at the rather definitive statements made by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, such as “we know for a fact that there are deceased people whose identities are being used in elections in South Carolina.”

This was a rather shocking claim, which stemmed from allegations made by Kevin Shwedo, executive director of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles. (“Well over 900 individuals appear to have voted after they died.”) One state lawmaker famously declared: “We must have certainty in South Carolina that zombies aren’t voting.”

Haley did not entirely jump on the same factual bandwagon, though she made her statement on a Fox News program devoted to voter fraud. The Fox correspondent immediately followed her statement with these words: “Authorities say there is evidence that dead people voting is a real problem, according to a statewide investigation by South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In January, it found that 953 ballots were cast by voters who are deceased.”

The allegations emerged as South Carolina officials sought to impose a new voter photo ID law during the 2012 election; a federal court delayed it from taking effect until 2013.

Claims of voter irregularities often generate big headlines, but the follow-up generates much less attention. Believe it or not, the results of the full investigation into these claims has only now been revealed. So was any of this true?

The Facts

The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) conducted an extensive probe, which was completed May 11, 2012. But the final report was just made public this month after a 13-month review by Wilson’s office. In fact, the report was only released after Corey Hutchins of the Columbia (S.C.) Free Times submitted an open records request under the Freedom of Information Act. He received the report the day before the 4th of July holiday — perfect timing for news designed to be buried.

We have embedded below a copy of the 476-page report.

SLED Investigation Into Voter Fraud

It turns out the claims of 953 votes by dead people actually involved not one election but 74 elections over a seven-year period.

So SLED’s investigation centered on 207 votes that allegedly were made by dead people in the Nov. 2, 2010 election — when a total of 1,365,480 votes were cast — after officials concluded that that batch constituted a “representative sampling” of the alleged voting irregularities. (Note that the number of alleged dead votes was less than 2/10,000th of all of the votes cast in that election.)

The report confirms what the State Election Commission had found after preliminarily examining some of the allegations: The so-called votes by dead people were the result of clerical errors or mistaken identities.

For instance, sometimes a son had the same name as a deceased father, and poll workers mixed up a dead father with a living son. (This happened 92 times in the initial probe, and then further investigation found seven more examples.)

In 56 cases, there was “bad data matching,” in which the DMV records had the Social Security of a dead person associated with a living voter. The living voter — with a different name and birth date — properly cast a ballot. Thirty-two votes attributed to dead people were simply the result of too-sensitive scanners.

In one case, someone cast an absentee ballot before dying; their vote still counts under the law. In two other cases, people requested an absentee ballot, but died before returning it, so no harm was done. In other cases, the wrong voter was marked as having cast a vote, and then the marks were not completely erased. There were several other types of clerical errors, too numerous to mention. In the end, just five votes remained unresolved after extensive investigation.

In other words, there were not “hundreds” of zombie voters — just egg on the face of the politicians who promoted these “facts” across national television. So do they have any regrets?

As far as we can tell, Haley only addressed this issue once, in the context of the Voter ID law, and to her credit she mentioned no figure. “The governor never made claims that lots of dead people were voting,” said Rob Godfrey, her spokesman. “She did see the claims that were made by others, but her point was, and remains, that fraudulent voting of any kind should be prevented, and showing a simple photo ID before voting will help that. “

Shwedo, who at the time acknowledged that at least some of the allegations could be the result of clerical errors, did not respond to a request for comment. (Update: Shwedo said he has not yet read the report but there was “probable cause to believe there were voting discrepancies. For us to not have an investigation would have been irresponsible.”)

“The initial claims reported to the Attorney General’s Office were alarming,” said J. Mark Powell, communications director for Wilson. “They were not vague allegations, but contained specific information. The state’s chief prosecutor cannot stand by when presented with such a situation. So SLED was asked to investigate this matter. We appreciate SLED’s hard work in preparing this report.”

Asked if Wilson had any regrets, Powell said the statement speaks for itself.

The Pinocchio Test

We are going to aim the Pinocchios at Wilson. More than anyone, he hyped these charges into certified “facts,” even before any real investigation had taken place. Indeed, the miniscule percentage of alleged dead votes, out of the number cast, should have urged caution.

Instead, he went straight to the television cameras—and then his office for months bottled up the report that revealed not a single claim was true.

Apparently, officials were hoping the whole thing would remain dead and buried. But zombies have a way of coming back to life.

Four Pinocchios






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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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