Over the course of the last year or so, I’ve marveled at the number of Republican voters who’ve been caught casting ballots on behalf of dead or missing relatives. The case of Barry Morphew, however, is a little different, though it nevertheless fits into the larger pattern. The New York Times reported:
The husband of a Colorado woman who has been missing for more than two years pleaded guilty on Thursday to casting her mail-in ballot for Donald J. Trump during the 2020 election, telling F.B.I. agents, “I figured all these other guys are cheating.” The man, Barry Morphew, 54, was given a sentence of one year of supervised probation but avoided jail time after pleading guilty to one count of forgery, a felony, in district court in Chaffee County, according to court records.
If this story sounds at all familiar, it’s because we explored it in some detail over a year ago.
Just to briefly recap, Suzanne Morphew disappeared in May 2020 after going for a bike ride near her home. Her husband, Barry Morphew, was charged with murdering his wife, but a few months ago, the charges against him were dropped after a judge accused prosecutors of violating discovery rules.
The defendant had pleaded not guilty. His wife’s body has never been found.
But about five months after she went missing, Suzanne Morphew’s completed ballot was nevertheless returned to the clerk’s office in Chaffee County, Colorado. Barry Morphew had denied having anything to do with his wife’s disappearance, but he confessed to submitting an illegal ballot on her behalf.
According to the arrest affidavit, asked why he submitted the ballot for his missing-and-presumed-dead wife, Morphew said, “Just because I wanted Trump to win.... I just thought, give him [Trump] another vote.”
Not surprisingly, he got caught, pleaded guilty, and received probation.
The trouble is, this happened quite a few times.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, it was in May 2021 when we learned 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 2021, 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.
Nevada’s Donald Kirk Hartle, meanwhile, became a cause celebre in Republican circles when he said someone cast a ballot for his late wife. In November 2021, we later learned that it was Hartle who illegally voted for his late wife, lied about it, got caught, and ultimately pleaded guilty. As part of a plea deal, he received a yearlong probation.
Three months ago, voters in a Republican stronghold in Florida also pleaded guilty after voting in the Sunshine State, while also trying to cast absentee ballots in other states. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the admitted fraudsters “will avoid further punishment if they regularly meet with a supervising officer, complete 50 hours of community service and attend a 12-week adult civics class, among a handful of other requirements.”
Around the same time, a Phoenix woman named Tracey Kay McKee also pleaded guilty after she was caught casting a ballot for her deceased mother. She also received probation.
I continue to believe there are a couple of relevant angles to keep in mind. The first is the degree to which these incidents don’t bolster conspiracy theorists’ claims. “See?” many on the right will likely say. “Voter fraud is real; people keep casting illegal ballots; and sweeping new voter-suppression laws are fully justified.”
As we’ve discussed, 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 and prosecute them. This doesn’t prove the need for new voter-suppression laws; it helps prove the opposite.
But let’s also again spare a thought for Texas’ 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.
And yet, the aforementioned white voters received vastly more lenient sentences, despite the fact that they knowingly hatched schemes to cast illegal ballots.
They were caught and charged, but judges didn’t exactly throw the book at them.