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Five Dead Voted in Washington, But Conspiracies Still False

The Pierce County, Wash., auditor confirmed that five dead people voted in the 2020 presidential election, and three people are being tried for the “tribute votes.” The confirmation only shows that voter fraud prevention efforts worked.

(TNS) — Stop the presses. The rumors are true: Dead people voted in the contentious 2020 presidential election, right here in Pierce County, Wash.

A grand total of five of them.

Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, whose job it is to ensure the integrity of local elections, confirmed this minor revelation on Monday. Despite those five ballots slipping through the cracks, it's a subject she was more than happy to discuss.

Why? Monday was also the day that three of the people responsible for illegally casting ballots on behalf of the deceased faced their day in Pierce County Superior Court. It once again proved that there are consequences for voting illegally — and that the system isn't broken, Anderson assured.

Tellingly, Anderson said that the vote-by-mail violations identified by her staff during the 2020 presidential election largely reflected what the often inflated scourge of dead voters actually looks like:

People making a mistake, in a profound moment of grief, shortly after the death of someone they love.

"Typically, it's a household member who firmly believes their loved one would have wanted to vote and wanted to participate," Anderson said.

Describing them as "tribute votes," Anderson said part of the reason it's so difficult for one to sneak through is because of the work the Auditor's Office does to check death records against the voter rolls and quickly remove those who have recently passed away. This includes constantly monitoring death information distributed by the Secretary of State, the Department of Health and the federal Social Security Administration, she said, as well as combing through local obituaries and notices from area funeral homes.

Still, with ballots printed and mailed weeks in advance, "there's a window there," Anderson said. But of more than 450,000 votes cast by mail in the 2020 general election, Anderson is confident that the five illegally cast ballots her office identified — which were unfortunately counted before being identified — are the only ones that eluded county elections safeguards.

After investigating internally and comparing signatures included on the envelope with the suspect ballots to those of others living at the same address, the cases were forwarded to local law enforcement agencies, Anderson said. Since the ballots weren't discovered before they were accepted — and ballots are separated from their security envelopes and become anonymous during tabulation — there's no way to know how the final vote counts were effected, she said.

Ultimately, according to Pierce County Prosecutor's office spokesperson Adam Faber, there was enough evidence to charge three people with a crime. In one of the cases that wasn't charged, Farber said, a "voter filled out someone else's ballot but self-reported" as soon as they realized the mistake. In the other case, no suspect was ever identified.

Russell Hobbs of Bonney Lake is one of the three Pierce County residents who found out the hard way that voter fraud is something elections officials and law enforcement take seriously. On Monday, the 56-year-old pleaded guilty to an amended charge of attempted vote by mail violation. He was sentenced to 80 hours community service.

According to charging documents, Hobbs illegally signed and submitted a ballot on behalf of his wife, who passed away roughly three months earlier. The documents do not disclose which presidential candidate received the vote.

Steve Terry, who represented Hobbs in court, described his client as remorseful.

"I think (Hobbs) just tried to honor his deceased loved one," Terry said. "That was clear."

The two other cases in court on Monday involved similar scenarios, according to charging documents. Tamara Amratis of Puyallup pleaded guilty to casting a vote on behalf of her husband, Clinton, who was known to proudly display a Trump 2020 flag. Daniel Brewer of Spanaway voted for his 19-year-old son, who died in June. Both were sentenced to perform 40 hours of community service.

Attempts to reach Brewer and Armatis — and their attorneys — were unsuccessful.

According to Pierce Count elections supervisor Kyle Haugh, what all this goes to show is that the county's efforts to prevent voter fraud are working. Haugh noted that only one ballot cast on behalf of a dead person was identified during the recent primary, and it was flagged before being counted.

Despite the difficult circumstances that often lead to such decisions by heartbroken voters, that doesn't make them right or lawful, Anderson reminded. That's why offenders are prosecuted.

On a human level, however, it does help to explain how it happens, while debunking vast conspiracy claims and showing that there was no coordinated effort to disrupt democracy, she said.

"People are born and they die all the time,"Anderson acknowledged.

People voting for the dead, on the other hand, is "very, very infrequent," she said.

(c)2021 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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