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Election inspectors count ballots into the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the central counting board in Detroit. (AP) Election inspectors count ballots into the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the central counting board in Detroit. (AP)

Election inspectors count ballots into the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the central counting board in Detroit. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman November 5, 2020

No, a dead voter named William Bradley didn’t vote in Detroit

If Your Time is short

  • A Detroit voter named William Bradley told us he voted by mail. He said a ballot was also sent for his dead father with the same name, but he threw out that ballot. 

  • A city elections official said that a ballot was not cast on behalf of the elder Bradley, but when the alive Bradley voted officials made a clerical error in recording the ballot.

  • Elections officials take steps including signature verification to prevent people from impersonating dead voters. 

 

As Michigan continued to count ballots in the presidential race, social media posts claimed that ballots were cast in the names of dead people.

"118-year-old William Bradley voted via an absentee ballot in Wayne County, Michigan this year. William died in 1984. They’re trying to steal this election," stated a Facebook post by Ryan Fournier, founder of Students for Trump.  

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Screengrabs on social media showed a Detroit registered voter, William Bradley, with a date of birth in March 1902 and a date of death in June 1984. We entered his name in the state’s voter information website and found that he was listed as a registered voter. The state website showed that a ballot was sent to Bradley in September and received back Oct. 2.

A city official said that no ballot was cast on behalf of the dead voter.

William Bradley is a potentially common name. We found another William Bradley in the same zip code and spoke to him on the telephone Nov. 5.

Bradley told us that he shares the same name as his father who died in 1984, except he has the middle name of Tarnell. He told us that he lives in the same home where his father used to live. 

Bradley told us that he voted by mail due to the pandemic. He said that a ballot arrived for his dead father, but he threw that out.

"I didn’t use it, because I didn’t want to get it confused with mine," he said.

Bradley said that someone on Nov. 5 called him and told him there was a report all over the internet about this situation, so he called the city about it. A city official told him not to worry, because officials check for a matching signature and date of birth, he told us.

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We put Bradley’s name with his date of birth through the same state website. It showed that he is a registered voter and it showed his application for an absentee ballot was received in July, but it showed no ballot sent or received. 

Daniel Baxter, a consultant for the Detroit Department of Elections, sent us a statement that explained what happened:

"No ballot for the 118-year-old Mr. Bradley was ever requested, received or counted. A man with a nearly identical name requested a ballot and voted properly in both the primary and general elections.  When his ballot was initially logged, however, it was incorrectly attributed to the William Bradley born 118 years ago through a clerical error." 

Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, told us that on rare occasions a ballot can be recorded inaccurately if names are identical, creating the impression that a ballot was cast in a dead voter’s name.

"This can be because of voters with similar names, where the ballot is accidentally recorded as voted by John Smith Sr when it was actually voted by John Smith Jr; or because of inaccurately recorded birth dates in the qualified voter file; for example, someone born in 1990 accidentally recorded as born in 1890," Wimmer said. "In such scenarios, no one ineligible has actually voted, and there is no impact on the outcome of the election. Local clerks can correct the issue when it is brought to their attention."

We have fact-checked many misleading claims about dead people on the voter rolls this year including in Detroit, Michigan, Virginia, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Our ruling

A Facebook post said "118-year-old William Bradley voted via an absentee ballot in Wayne County, Michigan this year. William died in 1984. They’re trying to steal this election."

A city elections official said that no ballot was cast for the now deceased Bradley. The official said that a man with a nearly identical name (Bradley’s son) voted in the election; however, when his ballot was initially logged it was incorrectly attributed to the William Bradley born 118 years ago. This was a clerical error, not voter fraud.

This statement rates False.

PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more. 

Our Sources

Facebook post, Nov. 4, 2020

Snopes, RUMOR ALERT: William Bradley and ‘Dead’ Voters in Michigan, Nov. 5, 2020

Click on Detroit, Did a dead 118-year-old man vote absentee in Michigan? State says no, Nov. 5, 2020

State of Michigan Voter Index, Accessed Nov. 5, 2020

Logically, Fraudulent votes were cast in Michigan using the identities of dead people, Nov. 5, 2020

National Conference of State Legislatures, Voter list accuracy, March 20, 2020

PolitiFact, Dead voters on Detroit’s voter rolls, including person born in 1823? That post is outdated, Nov. 5, 2020

PolitiFact, Donald Trump Jr. distorts Michigan data on dead voters, Aug. 18, 2020

PolitiFact, Post wrongly says thousands of ballots sent to dead people, pets in Virginia and Nevada, Sept. 9, 2020

PolitiFact, Are dead people among the names in Wisconsin voter roll purge? Jan. 30, 2020

Telephone interview, Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Nov. 5, 2020

Telephone interview, Detroit voter William Bradley, Nov. 5, 2020

Email statement from Daniel Baxter, Special Project Election Consultant for the Detroit Department of Elections, Nov. 5, 2020

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More by Amy Sherman

No, a dead voter named William Bradley didn’t vote in Detroit

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