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Backers of U.S. President Donald Trump line up for a golf
Backers of Donald Trump rally after he lost the 2020 election. Paul Hennessey / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, file

Voter fraud at a Florida GOP stronghold leads to a light sentence (again)

Quite a few Republican voters were caught casting illegal ballots in the 2020 race. In each case, judges didn’t exactly throw the book at them.


To the extent that the United States has a retirement community known to national audiences, it’s probably The Villages in central Florida. As regular readers probably recall, it’s also earned a reputation as a far-right Republican stronghold.

A couple of years ago, for example, when Donald Trump promoted a video showing a parade of supporters in golf carts — one of whom shouted, “White power” — it was recorded at The Villages.

It was against this backdrop that we learned late last year that three residents of The Villages were charged with voter fraud. (A fourth soon followed.) As we discussed at the time, according to local police reports, the accused tried to game the system by voting in Florida, while also trying to cast absentee ballots in other states. Not surprisingly, they got caught.

Whatever happened to these charges? Circling back to our earlier coverage, two of the accused — Charles Barnes and Jay Ketcik — pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony. Though the charges could’ve resulted in prison sentences, both received probation.

Last week, they were joined by another resident of The Villages who did the same thing. WPLG in Miami reported:

A third resident of The Villages has admitted to voting twice during the 2020 election, court records show. Joan Halstead, 73, entered a pretrial intervention program Wednesday that will allow her to avoid potential prison time if she successfully completes court-ordered requirements such as performing community service and attending a civics class, Local 10 News partner WKMG News 6 in Orlando reports. Halstead acknowledged her guilt as part of her agreement with prosecutors.

It’s worth noting for context that Halstead, a registered Republican, reportedly pleaded not guilty earlier this year. Evidently, she changed her mind ahead of a plea agreement in which she received probation.

This is, to be sure, a familiar dynamic.

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, 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.

Last month, Colorado’s Barry Morphew also pleaded guilty to voting for Trump on behalf of his missing-and-presumed-dead wife, and he 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.