Oct 31, 2016
Donald Trump's supporters say it is a fact: ballots are cast in the names of dead people on election day.
In fact, the Republican presidential candidate made that claim of election fraud himself, at an October campaign stop in Green Bay.
"People who have died ten years ago are still voting," Trump told an enthusiastic crowd.
But how does the claim of a candidate with a flair for the outrageous square with reality?
Election scholar Richard Hasen, professor at the University of California-Irvine School of Law, insists that claim has no basis in truth.
"It's just not happening right now," Hasen said.
"What looks like fraud to someone who is lazy is just administrative error or poor record keeping. Not some vast conspiracy to rig the election."
It takes a bit of work, but the claims of Donald Trump and Richard Hasen can be checked out.
So that is what we did.
The I-TEAM purchased from the Wisconsin Elections Commission voting records from the November, 2012 general election. Narrowing our focus to Brown, Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, we looked at 828,684 records of people who cast a ballot in the last presidential race.
Using the first, middle and last names of those voters, plus their zip codes, we looked for matches in the Social Security Administration's "master death file."
That database contains information on every person declared dead by Social Security dating back decades.
What we found were 362 cases where the first, middle and last names, plus the zip codes of 2012 voters matched with a person declared dead and listed in the master death file.
If you think that proves ballots were cast in the name of dead people, think again.
The I-TEAM then turned to public records to verify each of the 362 matches.
For example, we needed to know why a ballot was cast in the name of Jane E. Camillo from zip code 53217.
Records showed Camillo had died on New Year's Day 1998 but had voted seven times since 2012 -- all from the same address in Bayside.
What we discovered was a remarkable coincidence.
Jane E. Camillo of Bayside shares the same first and middle names as her husband's first wife, who passed away in 1998.
Yes, he married two women with the same first and middle names.
Their ages were similar enough to flag the match as potential fraud, which did not stand up to further investigation.
A revelation that was as amusing to Mrs. Camillo as it was reassuring.
"Thank goodness somebody is paying attention," Jane E. Camillo said. "You know with corruption and voter fraud and everything. this actually made me very happy I was caught in the loop."
In every one of the 362 potential matches, public records provided similar explainations.
Most commonly, relatives shared a common name and lived in the same neighborhood. That was the case for Jose M. Rodriguez on Milwaukee's south side.
It was the same story when the name Michael V. Crivello popped up as a possible sign of election fraud. Crivello is head of Milwaukee's police union and, according to voter records, a consistent voter.
So why did his name and zip code match with a man of the same name who died in 1989?
Crivello confirmed the date of birth and death on the match were not those of any relative, but admitted the Crivello name was common in the Milwaukee neighborhood he calls home.
The I-TEAM shared its findings with Michael Haas, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. He was not surprised to see zero evidence of ballots cast in the name of dead voters.
"I think it's very miniscule a chance that would happen," Haas said.
Haas has heard the rhetoric this election season, and dating back to 2012.
That is when a Pew Research study showed 1.8 million dead people were still registered to vote across the country.
Donald Trump has held up that study as a sign election fraudsters are poised to exploit those outdated registrations to cast ballots on election day.
Haas said much has changed since 2012.
"We get death records from the state and we can compare those records to voters that are on the registration list and if they appear to be deceased, they are removed from the voter registration list," Haas said.
Which further explains why, of the 362 possible "zombie voters," every one of them was either not registered to vote in Wisconsin or the voter file was flagged as deceased.
To Richard Hasen, this is just as he expected.
"The picture you're painting is a clear one," he said. "It's not very sexy work to be checking all these things, but it's important work."
In the small percentage of times ballots are cast in the name of a dead person, Hasen said it's usually the result of a clerical error or an isolated individual making a bad decision.
Rampant election fraud in the name of the deceased, he insists, is just a myth.
"Proving bureaucratic incompetence," he said, "That is easy to do. Proving dead people voting is not going to happen."
The I-TEAM searched through voting data from recent Wisconsin elections to look for trends and truths about the way we vote. These are the stories we found in the numbers.
The I-TEAM examined records of 828,624 ballots cast in the November, 2012 general election. We compared those voter records with a copy of the Social Security Administration master death file current through the date of the 2012 election. Each voter record that matched on an entry in the master death file was then compared by hand with public records to validate or invalidate the match.