Washington (CNN)The mysterious case of Rosemarie Hartle’s vote in the last presidential election, three years after her death, was trumpeted in November 2020 by the Nevada Republican Party and various prominent conservatives. From then-President Donald Trump on down, Republicans used stories about phony votes cast under the names of dead people as key evidence for their claim that Joe Biden’s victory was marred by major fraud.
The Hartle mystery is now solved. And it turns out that the fraud was committed by a Republican.
Hartle was married to Las Vegas businessman Donald Kirk Hartle, a registered Republican. In November 2020, Hartle told Las Vegas television station 8 News Now (KLAS-TV) that he felt “disbelief” when he found out that a mail-in ballot was submitted in his late wife’s name. It was “pretty sickening,” he said at the time, adding that he didn’t know how it could’ve happened.
But Hartle had actually cast the phony ballot himself.
On Tuesday, Hartle pleaded guilty to the crime of voting more than once in the same election. The judge, 8 News Now reported, said Hartle had pulled what seemed like a “cheap political stunt that kind of backfired and shows that our voting system actually works because you were ultimately caught.”
Indeed. And it isn’t the first time something like this has happened.
In November 2020, the Trump campaign highlighted a case in which a ballot was cast in the name of a long-dead Pennsylvania woman. Her son later pleaded guilty to casting that ballot for Trump, saying, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he had “listened to too much propaganda and made a stupid mistake.”
False or overstated claims
So there is a smattering of confirmed cases in which ballots were indeed illegally cast in the names of dead people, and we might perhaps learn of some more cases over time. Early this year, Nevada’s secretary of state referred 10 “questionable” cases to law enforcement for investigation.
But Trump’s vague assertions that thousands of ballots were cast in the names of dead people in various key states were entirely baseless; his massive numbers were plain fictional. Some specific ballots the Trump campaign claimed were fraudulent, meanwhile, were quickly proven to be legitimate ballots cast by living people with the same or similar names as dead people.
And Republican voters were responsible for some of the small number of known crimes.
A Republican local official was the perpetrator of one Ohio case, admitting to forging a signature to cast a ballot under the name of his recently deceased father; he told NBC News it was an “honest error” and also that he had simply been “trying to execute a dying man’s wishes.”
In Colorado, a man who was charged in 2021 with murdering his wife, who had disappeared in May 2020, was also charged with illegally casting her ballot, for Trump, in the November election. He allegedly told FBI agents that he submitted the ballot because he thought “all these other guys are cheating” and his wife would have voted for Trump anyway.
In some of the confirmed cases, including Hartle’s, it is not publicly known which presidential candidate the illegal vote was cast for. Regardless, there is no sign that the crime of voting under the name of a dead person happened even close to frequently enough to have swung any state to Biden, that this crime was committed overwhelmingly by Biden voters, or that the crime is generally going unnoticed by the authorities.
“No one claims that voter fraud never occurs. Multiple studies have examined the frequency of voting fraud, and it is extremely rare,” said Paul Gronke, a political science professor and director of the Elections & Voting Information Center at Reed College. “Voter impersonation fraud particular, which is what Mr. Hartle did when he forged his wife’s name, is even rarer.” Gronke said that, while fraudulent voters can occasionally slip through verification systems if they are willing to commit a felony like Hartle did, “nothing in this case is evidence that voting fraud is happening at a level that changes election outcomes.”
The Nevada Republican Party did not respond to a CNN request for comment about how it had drawn attention to the Hartle case in 2020.
Which is unsurprising. When it comes to voter fraud, some Trump allies have taken a distinctly Trumpian approach: throw sensational claims into the public realm before the actual facts are known — and if inconvenient actual facts eventually emerge, just quietly move on to the next sensational claim, confident that the truth will never reach a good chunk of the Republican base.