October 28, 2016
A Philadelphia elections official is denouncing a local TV news report Friday that found at least five instances of votes cast in recent elections under the names of dead people.
Commissioner Al Schmidt said Friday afternoon that voter fraud indeed exists in Philadelphia. But he said it is neither systemic nor widespread. And he claimed the cases highlighted by 6ABC are not examples of voter fraud.
He took to Twitter earlier in the day to slam investigative reporter Wendy Saltzman's story as "intentionally misleading."
"We take every accusation of voter fraud seriously," Schmidt said. "When it is grounded in fact and evidence we refer it for investigation and prosecution. But that's not what we had here. We told them before the show aired that this was not voter fraud in these cases."
The station reported it had dug through a decade's worth of Philadelphia's election and death records. The report cited five cases where people had cast votes under the names of deceased voters. They included one woman who died in 2006 but had cast ballots in 2008, 2012, 2014 and the 2016 primary election.
People with similar names — often a relative of the deceased voter — signed the poll book in the wrong spot, Schmidt said. In no case, he said, did the living voter then cast another vote under his or her actual name.
"They sign their own names in the wrong spots," Schmidt said. "It's not like impersonations. It's not a vote that is illegitimate. It's not a vote that shouldn't have been cast."
Such mistakes most frequently occur when a deceased voter's name appears at the top or bottom of a poll book, Schmidt said. Election workers flipping through the poll book mistakenly stop scrolling when they see a similar name. That's how Paul Bunch Jr. accidentally signed his name under the name of his late father.
But why are deceased voters still in the election books?
Twice a month, the Pennsylvania Department of Health alerts the Philadelphia Board of Elections of voters that it knows have died.
"They can only notify us of what they're aware of," Schmidt said. "If (a woman) moved to a nursing home by her daughter in upstate New York and she passes away in New York, the Pennsylvania Department of Health doesn't know it."
Therefore, Schmidt said, some deceased voters remain on the books until a relative notifies the Board of Elections. At that point, an investigator is sent to deceased voter's residence to confirm the death.
The Action News story came as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump repeatedly warns of a "rigged" election, saying large-scale voter fraud is happening in the U.S. There is no evidence that such widespread fraud exists.
Yet, Trump has singled out Philadelphia as a city to watch, and has specifically raised concerns about votes made by dead people.
Philadelphia has real cases of voter fraud, Schmidt said. But it doesn't look like the "rigged" system alleged by Trump.
"It occurs, I'm sure, in every election in Philadelphia and every major election around the country," Schmidt said. "It's just a country with one group of people saying it never occurs and another group of people saying it's systemic and rampant. The truth is somewhere in between."
In the last two years, 10 Philadelphia residents have been indicted for voter fraud, Schmidt said. Eight of them pleaded guilty.
Such cases include voters being permitted by election workers to cast ballots for their spouses or a sick friend or relative, Schmidt said. But in one case, three election workers pleaded guilty to adding six votes at the end of Election Day.
Experts say cases of voter fraud involving dead people are isolated. They also say it would be an inefficient way to rig a presidential election, given that the fraud would have to be conducted one voter at a time and would be effective only in places where the race is close enough that the outcome could be swayed.
There are more than 9,000 election jurisdictions nationwide and hundreds of thousands of polling places.
Action News identified some 2,000 cases of suspected voter fraud, Schmidt said. Due to time restraints, the Election Board agreed to investigate 20 of them selected by the news organization.
None of the 20 cases turned up fraudulent, Schmidt said. Instead, several people turned out to be alive when investigators knocked on their doors. The other cases involved an election worker scanning the wrong name or a voter mistakenly signing under the wrong name.
The only fraud here is this story itself. It's intentionally deceptive. I documented and provided what actually happened in every case. https://t.co/Lr7cudszhj— Al Schmidt (@Commish_Schmidt) October 28, 2016
.@WendySaltzman We looked at the sample of 20 YOU provided. 0 of 20 indicated voter fraud. Your data was bad. Not our fault you struck out.— Al Schmidt (@Commish_Schmidt) October 28, 2016
.@WendySaltzman Every case you sensationalized was explained to you. It misled people into thinking voter fraud occurred. Irresponsible.— Al Schmidt (@Commish_Schmidt) October 28, 2016
@Commish_Schmidt poll worker, "human error" according to you. What needs to be done to get rid of these errors and remove dead voters?— Wendy Saltzman (@WendySaltzman) October 28, 2016
Watch video of 6ABC's report below: