stated on June 1, 2022 in a campaign ad:
“Dead people always vote Democrat.”
Kevin Rinke, a Republican candidate for governor in Michigan, on May 2, 2022, at the Fleetwood Diner in Lansing, Mich. (AP)
By Clara HendricksonJune 2, 2022
By Louis JacobsonJune 2, 2022
Debunking the zombie claim that ‘dead people always vote Democrat’
IF YOUR TIME IS SHORT
• At least six cases that have been adjudicated in court and subject to media coverage over the past five years involved defendants who were either registered Republicans or said that they supported Donald Trump.
Kevin Rinke’s latest campaign ad is nothing if not eye-catching.
The ad, designed to bolster the Michigan car dealer’s campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, features Rinke standing next to an actor made up to look like a zombie wearing a Biden-Harris T-shirt and multiple “I voted” stickers.
“Why is it that dead people always vote Democrat(ic)?” Rinke says, motioning to the zombie with bugged-out eyes and a wide-open mouth. Rinke goes on to accuse Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of failing to crack down on voter fraud, saying that if he wins the governorship, he’ll make sure that voters are “registered, identified and alive.”
Katie Martin, a spokesperson for the Rinke campaign, said that a “quick Google search will show multiple news articles on deceased voters voting in elections.”
Ballots cast on behalf of dead people does happen, though it’s a tiny fraction of all votes. However, a Google search like the one the Rinke campaign requested actually shows that its assertion that dead people “always” vote Democratic is itself a zombie claim — and no less mythical than an actual zombie.
“This ad is so incorrect it gave me a headache,” said Thessalia Merivaki, a political scientist at Mississippi State University who studies voter fraud. She said there is “zero evidence” that ballots cast by dead people account for more than a tiny fraction of all votes recorded, and there’s also “zero evidence” that such ballots have uniformly been cast in favor of Democrats, Merivaki added.
Allegations of voter fraud in Michigan
Politicians aligned with former President Donald Trump have consistently raised the specter of voter fraud to explain how Trump could have lost the state to Joe Biden by more than 154,000 votes in the 2020 presidential race after winning it in 2016. But none of these claims hold water.
For instance, a viral tweet said Wayne County — home to Detroit — saw thousands of ballots cast by deceased voters. However, the list contained names of voters outside the county; several were not listed as ever having received or cast an absentee ballot; and at least one voter listed said she was alive and cast a ballot in the election.
The Michigan Secretary of State’s office has previously said that it is “not aware of a single confirmed case showing that a ballot was actually cast on behalf of a deceased individual in the state.”
Officials have ways to flag deceased voters, and clerks across the state successfully identified thousands of voters who submitted absentee ballots in 2020 but died before Election Day. Their ballots weren’t counted. In total, clerks across Michigan rejected 3,469 absentee ballots cast by people who were alive when they returned them but died before Election Day on Nov. 3, 2020.
A review by Michigan’s Office of the Auditor General thoroughly debunked charges by Trump and his allies that thousands of ballots were cast on behalf of dead Michigan voters in the 2020 election. The vast majority — 98.8% — of votes cast by those who died before the 2020 election passed away less than 40 days before Election Day.
Ballots cast on behalf of dead voters are rare in other states, too. Merivaki pointed to a 2021 study of Washington state’s vote-by-mail program, a system that is used statewide. The analysis found “extraordinarily low rates of potential fraud related to deceased individuals’ ballots.”
The study concluded that “among roughly 4.5 million distinct voters in Washington state (2011-18), we estimate that there are 14 deceased individuals whose ballots might have been cast suspiciously long after their death, representing 0.0003% of voters. Even these few cases may reflect two individuals with the same name and birth date, or clerical errors, rather than fraud.”
An official review in Georgia found that in the 2020 election, just four absentee ballots were cast on behalf of deceased voters.
What fraud cases do exist include many examples of voters acting in grief over the loss of a relative.
For instance, in Pierce County, Washington, auditor Julie Anderson found five instances of ballot fraud on behalf of dead voters in the 2020 election, several of which were cast by “a household member who firmly believes their loved one would have wanted to vote and wanted to participate,” the Tacoma News-Tribune reported. (The newspaper did not report the partisan affiliation of the voters.)
What is the partisan affiliation of ballots cast for dead voters?
States like Michigan typically make public whether a voter has cast a ballot in a given election, but they do not specify for whom an individual has voted. In fact, the government doesn’t even know how someone voted because a marked-up absentee ballot is removed from its envelope before being counted, a process that separates specific votes cast from a voter’s identifying information.
When we combed news reports in recent years for cases of ballot fraud on beha