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Voter fraud at a GOP stronghold leads to another light sentence

Quite a few Republican voters were caught casting illegal ballots in the 2020 elections. 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 has also earned a reputation as a far-right Republican stronghold.

A few 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 in 2021 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? I’m glad you asked.

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. They were joined by Joan Halstead, who pleaded guilty last summer and also received probation.

This week, the final member of the quartet followed suit. WKMG in Orlando reported:

All four residents of The Villages charged with voting twice in the 2020 election have now admitted to the crime, court records show. John Rider, 62, recently entered into a pre-trial intervention program that will allow him to avoid potential prison time if he successfully completes court-ordered requirements and refrains from violating the law.

It’s worth noting for context that Rider originally pleaded not guilty. Evidently, he changed his mind ahead of a plea agreement in which he received probation.

This was a familiar outcome.

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 had “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 célèbre 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.

Last year, 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.

Soon after, 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.