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Georgia officials find a pro-GOP ballot was cast by a dead voter

According to Donald Trump, 5,000 dead people voted in Georgia's 2020 presidential election. The actual number was four.
Cobb County Election officials handle ballots during a machine recount on Nov. 24, 2020, in Marietta, Ga.
Cobb County Election officials handle ballots during a machine recount on Nov. 24, 2020, in Marietta, Ga.Mike Stewart / AP

According to Donald Trump, 5,000 dead people voted in Georgia's 2020 presidential election. As is too often the case, the former president simply made up the tally and pretended it was true.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this morning that the actual number was much smaller.

False claims that there were thousands of ballots cast in the names of dead Georgia voters can now rest in peace. Election investigators found just four absentee ballots in the 2020 presidential election from voters who had died, all of them returned by relatives.

To be sure, there were many related allegations, but the State Election Board could only find four cases, and each were referred to the state attorney general's office.

As the Journal-Constitution's report added, "It's the latest in a series of unsubstantiated claims of fraud that have since been debunked, including allegations of counterfeit ballots, ballot stuffing and forged absentee ballot signatures. Three vote counts showed that Trump lost by about 12,000 votes in Georgia."

And while it's not clear which party's candidates benefited from three of these four ballots, the Journal-Constitution pointed to Sharon Nelson, a 74-year-old widow who submitted an absentee ballot on behalf of her husband, who died in September 2020, just a couple of months before the election.

Her lawyer conceded that she carried out her late husband's wishes, and voted Republican, though Nelson "now realizes that was not the thing to do."

Revisiting our earlier coverage, I'm struck by the familiarity of the circumstances. It was, after all, just last month when Donald Kirk Hartle illegally cast a Republican ballot for his late wife, lied about it, and got caught. He also received a fairly light sentence.

He was hardly alone. We learned in May about Pennsylvania's Bruce Bartman, who cast an absentee ballot in support of Trump for his mother — who died in 2008. Bartman pleaded guilty to unlawful voting, conceded he "listened to too much propaganda," and was sentenced to five years' probation.

About a month later, Edward Snodgrass, a local Republican official in Ohio, admitted to forging his dead father's signature on an absentee ballot and then voting again as himself. NBC News noted at the time that Snodgrass struck a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to three days in jail and a $500 fine.

In August, we learned of a Pennsylvania man named Robert Richard Lynn, who used a typewriter to complete an absentee ballot application on behalf of his deceased mother. After getting caught, he faced up to two years behind bars. Lynn instead received a sentence of six months' probation.

I suspect some will see reports like these as evidence to bolster conspiracy theories. "See?" they'll say. "Voter fraud is real; people keep casting ballots on behalf of dead relatives; and sweeping new voter-suppression laws are fully justified."

But that remains the wrong response. What these examples actually show is that when would-be criminals try to cheat, the existing system is strong enough to catch them, charge them, and convict them. This doesn't prove the need for voter-suppression laws; it helps prove the opposite.

But let's also spare a thought for Crystal Mason, who cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 elections while on supervised release for a federal conviction. She didn't know she was ineligible to vote, and her ballot was never counted, but Mason — a Black woman — was convicted of illegal voting and sentenced to five years in prison.

Whether, and to what extent, the four Georgians are prosecuted remains to be seen, but it's a safe bet none of the quartet will spend the next five years behind bars.