South Carolina Attorney General Perpetuates ‘Dead Voter’ Myth

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) turned heads this week when he initiated an investigation into whether 900 dead people voted in recent Palmetto State elections.

The Republican AG called for an investigation when “evidence was uncovered by Kevin Shwedo, the director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, during an extensive review of data related to the state’s new voter ID law,” according to WSOC TV.

Wilson is hardly the first person to claim that “dead voters” marred his state’s election. However, while salacious accusations like Wilson’s grab headlines, the subsequent investigations that find no voter fraud rarely get as much attention. Indeed, no election would be complete without allegations of dead voters; yet each time, officials perform the same Scooby Doo-routine, investigating wild accusations before discovering a much simpler explanation for the discrepancies.

Consider the following examples of supposedly “dead voters,” courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice:

Georgia: In 1998, Georgia investigators pointed to a vote cast by Alan J. Mandel, despite his death the year prior. When officials looked into the matter, according to the Washington Post, they realized that the votes had been cast by Alan J. Mandell (with two L’s), a man still very much alive, and poll workers had simply marked off the wrong name.

California: When Michael Huffington lost to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in the 1994 Senate race, he contested his defeat by alleging voter fraud, including supposed votes cast by dead people. According to Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Lou Cannon, “A check by voting registrars in two populous counties (Alameda and Fresno) found that this claim was based on clerical errors in which voters signed their names on the wrong lines.”

Maryland: An investigation into a claim that 89 dead Marylanders had voted in the 1994 election proved spurious when FBI officials were unable to find any such cases. According to Timothy P. McNally, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Maryland-Delaware field office, the closest evidence they came to finding fraud was when they “found one person who had voted then died a week after the election.”

New Hampshire: Following allegations that dead people had voted in New Hampshire’s 2004 general election, a subsequent investigation turned up little evidence. When officials sent postcards to the homes of possible “dead voters,” only one was returned as undeliverable; the woman in question died after Election Day but before she received the postcard.

It’s easy to allege that dead voters are undermining the integrity of our electoral process. Producing any evidence that voter fraud by dead people actually exists is far more difficult.

Indeed, behind nearly every dead voter accusation is a far more innocent explanation. Whether it’s a spelling error, a check-in error, or simply a death shortly after Election Day, minor discrepancies do pop up during elections; zombie voters, less so.

Officials like Wilson would do well to apply Occam’s Razor in matters like these before spinning wild accusations.