The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Trump team and Fox News alleged dead voters. Most cases were either debunked or actually involved Republicans.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, then the personal attorney for President Donald Trump, speaks to reporters on July 1, 2020. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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President Donald Trump and those around him threw a multitude of voter-fraud conspiracy theories at the wall after the 2020 election. And few were as pervasive as the idea that people rose from the dead to help defeat Trump’s reelection bid.

Unlike many of the often-nebulous claims, these ones carried the benefit of often having been rather specific — citing actual dead people, by name, who supposedly voted. This made them actually verifiable.

Nearly a year later, those specific claims have provided a case study in — and a microcosm of — just how ridiculous this whole exercise was.

The specific dead people cited by Trump and his allies have, in most cases, proved to not actually have been cases of dead people’s identities used fraudulently to vote. And in several other cases, in which a dead person was actually recorded as voting, the culprit has been identified: not a systemic effort to inflate vote totals for President Biden, but rather a Republican.

On New Year’s Day, the conservative Daily Signal ran down some of the names that had been cited. The Trump campaign had named four people in Pennsylvania and four in Georgia, including in a series of news releases called “Victims of Voter Fraud.” The Nevada Republican Party cited another two in that state, calling one of them “concrete” evidence of irregularities. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson then laundered those names and another in a segment on dead people supposedly voting, saying, “What we’re about to tell you is accurate. It’s not a theory. It happened, and we can prove it.”

At a rally on Oct. 9 in Des Moines, former president Donald Trump continued to unleash a litany of false and unproven claims of voter fraud in 2020. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Of the 11 names cited in all of this, though, none has been shown to involve the identities of dead people used to vote for Biden. Most have been either debunked or pointed in the opposite direction.

We’ll recap the examples below, with the supposed dead person voting in bold.

The latest example involves a man in Nevada who said someone had voted in the name of his dead wife, Rosemarie Hartle. This was hailed widely on conservative media. It was the case the Nevada GOP said showed the “concrete” evidence of irregularities. We learned late last week that there might have been fraud involved, but the alleged fraud was perpetrated by a Republican with ties to the Trump campaign. The man, Donald Kirk Hartle, has been charged with voting in his dead wife’s name.

The situation was much that same with another name the Trump campaign cited in Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Bartman. Not long after it lifted that case up, Bartman’s son Bruce admitted he had registered and voted in his long-dead mother’s name to help Trump. He pleaded guilty.

Two others follow the pattern. Also in Pennsylvania, registered Republican Francis Fiore Presto was charged with requesting and casting a ballot for his dead wife, Judy Presto. Also in that state, the family of Denise Ondick said her ballot was filled out shortly before she died close to the election. A family member said their mother intended to vote for Trump.

Among the other names cited by the Trump campaign and the Nevada GOP:

Three other three cases the Trump campaign and the Nevada GOP cited — those involving John H. Granahan of Pennsylvania, Fred Stokes Jr. of Nevada and Edward Skwiot of Georgia — have not resulted in evidence of wrongdoing or criminal charges. In the case of Stokes, there is a Fred Stokes III who is registered at the same address.

Backers of Trump’s fraud claims will look at the above and note that some of these instances have resulted in fraud charges. And that’s true!

But even if you set aside the fact that the proven instances involve fraud by Republicans and Trump backers, not Democrats, these involve not apparent systemic fraud but rather people seeking to exploit unusual circumstances involving recent deaths of their own loved ones.

However misguided that is, it doesn’t point to anything on a scale that could actually affect any but the closest election results. For this kind of thing to matter, it would need to involve someone, somewhere systematically using dead people to register votes for one candidate or another. Reaching out to the families of those who perished to convince them to commit felonies would seem an extremely risky and onerous gambit.

More than anything, it suggests isolated instances of people doing dumb things — potentially when convinced, despite the lack of evidence, that their own side was targeted by such tactics. (“In his political frustration, he chose to do something stupid,” said Samuel Stretton, the attorney for Bruce Bartman. “And for that he is very sorry.”)

And more than anything, it points to the folly of lifting these up as some of the best evidence available. The Trump team and its allies cited supposedly thousands of dead voters in multiple states, but for some reason when they named actual people, the cases didn’t pan out. These were repeatedly hailed not just on Carlson’s show or by the Nevada GOP as firm evidence of fraud, but also by the Trump campaign.

“This is hard evidence,” Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski claimed of the Ondick allegation, “and if you do your jobs, from the media, I’m sure you’ll find additional examples.”

Carlson, in his Nov. 11 segment, mentioned seven names while claiming his allegations were “accurate” and “not a theory.” Most of the names he mentioned were either debunked or now involve alleged fraud by a Trump supporter. (Carlson’s segment now carries a remarkable correction stating his show “began to learn some of the specific dead voters reported to us as deceased are in fact alive” — as if it had no ability to actually look into the claims it stated were bona fide proof.)

Nearly a year later, basically none of the Trump team’s allegations of voter fraud have actually panned out. But the dead-voters allegation is instructive in that it has proved especially specious — and if anything, according to the examples cited by the Trump campaign itself, points more to an effort to help Trump than hurt him.

If only most of the other allegations involved such specificity.

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