Judge: Vegas man’s vote fraud claim ‘cheap political stunt’
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Las Vegas man’s admission that he voted twice in November 2020 in a case that state Republicans seized on to claim voter irregularities amounted to “a cheap political stunt” that backfired, a state court judge said Tuesday.
Donald “Kirk” Hartle appeared by videoconference from his defense attorney’s office to plead guilty to a misdemeanor — voting more than once in the same election — and told Clark County District Court Judge Carli Kierny he accepted full responsibility for his actions and regrets them.
Hartle’s attorney, David Chesnoff, prevented his client from having to describe publicly how he voted early using a ballot that had been mailed to his dead wife. Rosemarie Hartle died in 2017 but her name remained on the voter rolls.
Chesnoff told the judge that state Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office agreed to reduce two felony charges against Hartle to the misdemeanor.
Kierny made it clear she was unhappy with the deal but accepted it. Hartle was fined $2,000 and has to stay out of trouble for one year. The judge set a Nov. 17, 2022, date to review the result.
“This seems to me to be a cheap political stunt that kind of backfired,” Kierny said, “and shows that our voting system actually works because you were ultimately caught.”
“Not to follow the negotiations would be a political stunt of my own and I am not willing to do that,” she added.
Hartle, 55, chief financial officer for companies owned by state Republican party finance chairman Donald Ahern, could have faced up to eight years in prison if convicted of the two felonies.
Ahern’s company hosted a reelection campaign event in September 2020 for then-President Donald Trump, and Ahern owns a Las Vegas hotel at which a national group espousing fringe QAnon conspiracy theories met in October.
Ford, a Democrat, and Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, issued a joint statement after Hartle’s plea.
“I am pleased that the truth was uncovered,” said Cegavske, who was censured last April by her own party after being accused of failing to fully investigate allegations of fraud in the 2020 election.
Cegavske repeatedly defended Nevada’s election results as reliable and accurate, and denied claims of widespread fraud despite attacks from Trump and other Republicans. Cegavske said after she was reprimanded by the Nevada GOP that she had been attacked for refusing to “put my thumb on the scale of democracy.”
“Though rare, voter fraud can undercut trust in our election system,” Ford said in Tuesday’s statement, adding that his office “will pursue any credible allegations of voter fraud.”
The Secretary of State’s office investigators began a probe of Hartle’s case a year ago, said Jennifer Russell, spokeswoman for Cegavske’s office, after former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp held a news conference to allege widespread voter fraud in Nevada.
Laxalt co-chaired the Trump campaign in Nevada. He is now seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
Schlapp named Rosemarie Hartle and one other person among what he said were “hundreds” of cases of dead people voting in Nevada.
Investigators determined the other case, involving a woman who used a deceased relative’s ballot instead of her own, was accidental.
Cegavske’s office said in April that reviews of election fraud allegations delivered to her office by the state GOP in March found some were already under investigation and most were baseless or inaccurately interpreted.
Nevada GOP officials did not immediately respond Tuesday to messages about Hartle’s plea.
Ford on Tuesday called Hartle’s case “particularly egregious because the offender continually spread inaccurate information about our elections despite being the source of fraud himself.”
The Nevada GOP tweeted a year ago about Hartle’s claim that someone voted with his wife’s ballot and urging media “to understand we are finding concrete cases of voter irregularities that they must expose.”
Hartle, in an interview with KLAS-TV at the time, said his case “lent some credence to what you’ve been hearing in the media about these possibilities and now it makes me wonder how pervasive is this?”
State and federal courts in Nevada and other states rejected dozens of election challenges by Republicans and Trump’s presidential campaign, including claims of widespread voter fraud.
Certified results in Nevada showed that President Joe Biden, the Democrat, defeated Trump by 33,596 of 1.4 million votes cast, or about 2.4%.
Hartle’s was the only active voter fraud case in Nevada, Ford’s office said.
In an earlier Nevada case, a 53-year-old man was sentenced last July to up to two years of probation for his guilty plea to one felony charge of voting twice — in Benton, Arkansas, and in Las Vegas — during the 2016 presidential election.
At least five other people have been convicted in Nevada since 2011 of registration fraud during voter recruitment, and one woman pleaded guilty to trying to vote twice in 2012.