To the extent that the United States has a famous retirement community, The Villages in central Florida probably fits the bill. 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 also got caught.
Whatever happened to these charges? The Orlando Sentinel reported today on the latest developments.
Two residents from The Villages confessed to voter fraud charges after filing two ballots in the 2020 Presidential election, court records show. Charles F. Barnes and Jay Ketcik pleaded guilty to casting more than one ballot in an election, a third-degree felony that could have resulted in a maximum five-year prison sentence.
The report added that Ketcik, a registered Republican, and Barnes, who is not affiliated with a political party in Florida, received a fairly light sentence. The Sentinel, citing pre-trial intervention documents, noted 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.” (The other two residents from The Villages facing the same charges have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.)
If these circumstances seem at all familiar, it’s not your imagination.
Revisiting our earlier coverage, it was nearly a year ago when we learned 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 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.
Now we have two related incidents out of The Villages, along with two guilty pleas and two light sentences.
Stepping back, 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 guys — Donald Kirk Hartle, Robert Richard Lynn, Edward Snodgrass, Bruce Bartman, Charles Barnes, and Jay Ketcik — received vastly more lenient sentences, despite the fact that they knowingly hatched schemes to cast illegal ballots.
Indeed, none of these men stumbled into the crimes by mistake. On the contrary, they requested absentee ballots as part of their deliberate efforts to cheat.
They were caught and charged, but judges didn’t exactly throw the book at them.