Local and State News

18 Months Later, S.C. Law Enforcement Closes Case on ‘Zombie Voters’, Finds No Fraud

By Corey Hutchins
Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A year and a half after Republicans were seized with zombie voter fever, a state police investigation found no indication that anyone purposefully cast a ballot using the name of a dead person in South Carolina.

But the news was not trumpeted on TV or elsewhere like the allegations were 18 months ago. Instead, the State Law Enforcement Division quietly wrapped up its investigation and only released its file to media after Free Times submitted an open records request under the Freedom of Information Act. SLED released the report July 3, one day before a federal holiday.

The agency found no indication of voter fraud.

But don’t expect the officials — or media — who put fear in the minds of voters to try and correct the record to the extent they trumpeted the claims. According to Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who focuses on elections and is researching claims of voter fraud, the level of media attention hardly ever balances when it comes to allegations of such voter fraud and any eventual follow-up that might debunk it.

For a while last year, you couldn’t turn on Fox News without seeing S.C. GOP Attorney General Alan Wilson saying things like, “We found out that there were over 900 people who died and then subsequently voted.”

And Republican Gov. Nikki Haley said, “Without photo ID, I mean, let’s be clear, I don’t want dead people voting in the state of South Carolina.” The charges of possible voter fraud arose at the time the state’s Republican leadership was pushing an ultimately successful Voter ID law requiring voters to flash a photo ID at the polls.

Wilson was unavailable for comment about the released report, but his spokesman, J. Mark Powell, passed along a statement. “The initial claims reported to the Attorney General’s office were alarming,” Powell said. “They were not vague allegations, but contained specific information. The state’s chief prosecutor cannot stand by when presented with such a situation. So SLED was asked to investigate this matter. We appreciate SLED’s hard work in preparing this report.”

A spokesman for SLED declined to comment on the nearly 500-page report.

House Democratic Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, a Columbia Democrat, on July 8 called on Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and other GOP officials to “acknowledge that they were being dishonest about voter fraud in South Carolina and apologize to the public for intentionally deceiving them for political gain.” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

“I see it all over the place,” Lovitt, the law professor, told Free Times about the disparity between voter fraud claims and follow-up. The launch of Wilson’s investigation was widely covered, he notes. “It turns out, the aftermath — in South Carolina, as I’ve seen most everywhere — is very rarely covered.”

The zombie voter fire was kindled back in early 2012 by a list of some 950 names that Gov. Haley’s DMV director, Kevin Shwedo, said were those of dead people who appeared to have voted in recent elections.

“Well over 900 individuals appear to have voted after they died,” Shwedo said at one House hearing on the matter. Horry County Republican Rep. Alan Clemmons, who took much interest in the dead voter drama, proclaimed gravely in another hearing, “We must have certainty in South Carolina that zombies aren’t voting.” (During the state’s battle over Voter ID legislation a year prior, Clemmons had sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice in support of the measure that read in part, “It is an unspoken truth in South Carolina that election fraud exists.”)

At the time, State Election Commission director Marci Andino said the agency had investigated a handful of cases where it appeared the names of deceased people had appeared on polling precinct signature rolls, but found no indication of fraud. She explained that of the initial batch of six names of allegedly dead voters on the DMV’s list, one had cast an absentee ballot before dying; another was the result of a poll worker mistakenly marking the voter as his deceased father; two were clerical errors resulting from stray marks on voter registration lists detected by a scanner; and two others resulted from poll managers incorrectly marking the name of the voter in question instead of the voter above or below on the list.

The agency went on to investigate more than 200 other names on the dead voter list and found zero cases of illegal activity. But the fever wouldn’t break.

Eventually, the attorney general’s office announced that SLED would handle the rest of the names on the list. “No one in this state should issue any kind of clean bill of health in this matter until the professionals at SLED have finished with their work,” said an attorney general’s office spokesman at the time.

Well, SLED has completed its work — and found nothing nefarious.

Agents with SLED drove as far as Myrtle Beach to meet with allegedly dead voters, only to find clerical errors similar to those found by the State Election Commission. 

Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire says there was a time when the agency would get daily calls from members of the public who believed people in this state were casting fraudulent ballots in the name of dead people.

“It hurt the public confidence in South Carolina elections,” he says. He’s glad SLED’s report confirmed what the elections agency always believed: there was no fraud, merely clerical errors and genuine mistakes.

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