Republicans and conservative media outlets thought they'd found a voter fraud case that could serve as the foundation for sweeping condemnations of our electoral system. Today, in a Nevada courtroom, their house of cards will collapse. The Nevada Independent reported:
A Clark County man prominently featured by local and national Republicans as having evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election has agreed to plead guilty to voting more than once during the same election, after using his deceased wife's ballot to vote a second time. The man, Donald Kirk Hartle, was publicly cited by the Nevada Republican Party last November as evidence of voting irregularities that affected the results of the 2020 election — Hartle, 55, claimed to learn that someone had cast a ballot in the 2020 election for his wife Rosemarie Hartle, who died in 2017.
To appreciate the significance of this case, let's review how we arrived at this point.
Over the course of the last 12 months, the public has learned of a handful of instances in which Donald Trump supporters were caught trying to cast ballots on behalf of dead relatives. In each instance, the Republicans were caught; the fraudulent ballots were not counted; and the cases were referred for prosecution. Several perpetrators have already pleaded guilty.
But the story surrounding Rosemarie Hartle's ballot in Nevada is something else altogether.
In the other documented instances, GOP voters quietly tried to get away with an illegal scheme. When they got caught — cheating is extremely difficult — those who tried and failed to pull off their schemes pleaded for mercy in court.
In Nevada, however, Rosemarie Hartle's ballot became a rallying cry and a lynchpin to a larger partisan strategy. Hartle died of cancer in 2017, but someone nevertheless tried to cast a ballot in her name last fall. Her husband, Donald Kirk Hartle, allowed himself to become a player in the partisan gambit, expressing public outrage that someone had dared to cast a ballot on behalf of his late wife.
He even appeared in the media, describing what transpired as "sickening."
For Republican officials, in Nevada and elsewhere, this was the story they'd been waiting for. Finally, there was proof of some criminal finding a flaw in the system and casting a dead woman's ballot. For much of the right, this wasn't just an instance of voter fraud; this was the instance of voter fraud.
Fox News' Tucker Carlson told his viewers last November, in reference to the Hartle matter, "In moments like this truth really matters more than ever. False allegations of fraud can cause as much damage as the fraud itself.... So we want to be accurate. What we're about to tell you is accurate. It is not a theory. It happened and we can prove it."
He proceeded to highlight the Hartle case, which the host said the "news media" is "hiding" in order to help then-President-elect Joe Biden.
The Fox News anchor was hardly alone. Dinesh D'Souza, a far-right provocateur, published a tweet last November that read, "[Donald Kirk Hartle] was SHOCKED when he found out his wife, who died in 2017, just voted in the 2020 election. Are you really going to tell me voter fraud doesn't exist?" The Nevada Republican Party also seized on the case — and admonished news organizations for not doing the same.
But the entire controversy recently started to unravel when Donald Kirk Hartle was accused of being the one responsible for casting his late wife's ballot. And today, as he pleads guilty, the foundational case for Republican conspiracy theorists will evaporate.
That in turn will leave me with a couple of questions. First, will there be any apologies from those who seized on this case as proof of systemic flaws in our system of elections? I'm guessing the answer is no.
And second, will Donald Kirk Hartle receive a lighter sentence than Texas' Crystal Mason? I'm guessing the answer is yes.