Republicans and conservative conspiracy theorists were certain they'd found the definitive proof they'd been waiting for. Rosemarie Hartle passed away in 2017, but someone nevertheless tried to cast a ballot on her behalf in the 2020 elections. Her husband, Donald Kirk Hartle, called this "sickening," and suggested it bolstered GOP attacks on the integrity of the electoral system.
Yesterday, the story collapsed: It was Donald Kirk Hartle who illegally voted for his late wife, lied about it, got caught, and ultimately pleaded guilty. As The Nevada Independent reported, the Republican voter accepted responsibility, expressed regret, and received a fairly light sentence.
As part of the plea deal, Hartle will be able to withdraw his plea, if he follows the terms of a yearlong probation, and instead plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to commit voting more than once in the same election. Under that charge, he would be fined $2,000 and receive credit for time served — meaning he would not serve any additional jail time. The felony charge he pleaded guilty to is typically punishable by a prison term of up to four years, as well as a fine of up to $5,000.
To be sure, the Republicans who seized on this case as proof that voter fraud is a real societal scourge have some explaining to do. But I'm also struck by the familiarity of the circumstances.
Revisiting our earlier coverage, we learned in May about Pennsylvania's Bruce Bartman, who cast an absentee ballot in support of Donald 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.
It's hard not to notice that white guys like Donald Kirk Hartle, Robert Richard Lynn, Edward Snodgrass, and Bruce Bartman received vastly more lenient sentences, despite the fact that they knowingly hatched schemes to cast illegal ballots on behalf of dead relatives.