(CNN) The Republican primary for governor of Michigan has been marred by a scandal over forged signatures on the nominations of five candidates.
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now a new campaign ad by Kevin Rinke, a businessman not among the five candidates to be disqualified, begins with a false claim about voter fraud and Democrats.
“Why do dead people always vote Democrat?” Rinke asks to start the ad.
The ad has a touch of comedy: A zombie stands next to Rinke with at least six “I Voted” stickers and what appears to be a shirt promoting the Biden-Harris campaign. But Rinke’s claim that dead people always vote for Democrats should still be taken seriously.
After the 2020 election, in which President Joe Biden won Michigan reasonably by more than 150,000 votes, prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, spread false accusations that Democrats had used deceased residents to steal victory in the state. And Rinke’s ad reprimands Democratic administration Gretchen Whitmer for allegedly doing nothing to “solve voter fraud.”
Voter fraud is extremely rare in Michigan and every other state. And Rinke’s claim about dead people and Democrats is completely false.
facts first† It’s just not true that votes cast in dead people’s names are always cast for Democrats. While the incidence of voter fraud involving the ballots of deceased people is small, there have been recent instances where such ballots were fraudulently cast, either for Republican candidates — including Trump — or by registered Republicans.
Since voters’ voting choices are secret, the public sometimes never finds out for which political party an illegal vote was cast; in some cases we know the name and party registration of the person who committed the fraud, but not who he actually supported in the name of the deceased. Still, the available record makes it abundantly clear that there is no truth to Rinke’s suggestion that this type of fraud is perpetrated only by Democratic voters.
When CNN asked Rinke’s campaign for evidence to back up that claim, spokesperson Katie Martin gave no. Instead, she said in an email that “a quick Google search will show multiple news articles about deceased voters voting in elections.”
True, but that same quick Google search also refutes Rinke’s claim that “dead people always vote Democrat”.
Republican Fraud Cases in 2020
Consider five of the proven or alleged cases of “dead people” that emerged from the 2020 general election:
A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty after voting for Trump in the 2020 general election with a ballot under the name of his late mother, who had been dead for more than a decade. (The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the man in court said he had “listened too much propaganda” during the isolation of the pandemic “and made a stupid mistake”.)
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A Colorado man is accused of casting his missing wife’s ballot for Trump in the 2020 general election. The man is said to have told FBI agents he submitted the ballot because he thought “all those other guys are cheating.” that his wife would have voted for Trump anyway, and that he didn’t know you can’t legally cast your husband’s vote. (Prosecutors had also charged the man with murdering his wife, whose body has not been found, but they dropped the charges in April; they could still pursue charges in the future.)
A registered Republican local official in Ohio, a township administrator, pleaded guilty after voting under the name of his recently deceased father in the 2020 general election. (He told NBC News it was an “honest mistake” and also that he was simply “trying to carry out the wishes of a dying person”.)
A registered Republican businessman in Nevada pleaded guilty after he cast a ballot in the 2020 general election under the name of his late wife, who had been dead for about three years. (The man, who initially claimed “disbelief” at supposedly having learned that someone had cast his wife’s vote, said in court that “I accept full responsibility for my actions and regret it,” de Las reported. Vegas television channel 8 News Now.)
A registered Republican woman in Arizona pleaded guilty after sending a ballot in the 2020 general election under the name of her recently deceased mother.
There are also cases from the 2020 election where registered Democrats have been charged with applying for ballots on behalf of deceased relatives, plus cases where the suspect’s party affiliation is not publicly known. So this tiny problem isn’t exclusive to Republicans, but it certainly isn’t exclusive to Democrats either.
A review by Michigan’s auditor general found that 1,616 votes in the state’s 2020 general election were cast by people who were dead on Election Day.
That’s about 0.03% of the 5.3 million total votes. It doesn’t come close to the “18,000,” “17,000” and “10,000” Michigan deaths Trump had cited repeatedly when complaining about the results. There is no indication that all 1,616 votes in question were cast for Biden, who won Michigan by 154,188 votes.
And, critically, the auditor’s audit did not conclude that the 1,616 votes were fraudulent.
The review noted that about 99% of the 1,616 votes, all but 20 of them, were cast by voters who died during Michigan’s 40-day voting period — suggesting the votes may have been cast by people who legally submitted ballots and subsequently coincidentally died shortly afterwards, but before Election Day.
Even those votes wouldn’t count in Michigan’s results — more than 3,400 were rejected in 2020, according to state data — but they’re not fake.
In addition, the auditor noted that even some of the voters who had died 41 days or more before Election Day may be living people who have been incorrectly marked as deceased because they share a common surname like Smith or a suffix like Jr.
So Rinke and others are free to urge the Michigan authorities to improve their electoral roll administration. But there is no sign of widespread voter fraud in the state involving dead people or anyone else.
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