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How a Scottsdale woman and her late mother were swept up in volunteers' investigation of 'dead voters'

Citizens' group handed attorney general a list of about 450 registered voters over the age of 90 who might be dead. It has led to one prosecution.

PHOENIX — A Scottsdale woman has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of using her dead mother's ballot to cast a vote in the November 2020 presidential election. 

Tracey Kay McKee is charged with one count of illegal voting and one count of perjury, for allegedly signing her mother's name in the affidavit box on an early-ballot envelope. 

The rare voting fraud charges carry penalties of up to two and half years in prison. 

A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office, which brought the charges, said he wasn't aware of similar prosecutions by the AG.

Neither McKee nor her lawyer, Tom Henze, responded to requests for comment.

McKee's indictment gives sparse details of the case against her.

RELATED: Scottsdale woman charged with illegally voting with dead mother's name in presidential election

Timeline Sheds Light on Votes

A timeline of the month before the election provides a clearer picture of what happened after McKee's mother died. 

These key dates were pulled from voter registration records obtained by 12 News through a public records request:

Oct. 5, 2020: McKee's mother, Mary Deloyht Arendt, died at the age of 93. Arendt was a widely known watercolor artist who had lived in Paradise Valley for many years.

Oct. 7: Two days after Arendt's death, early ballots for the presidential election were mailed to Arizona voters on the Permanent Early Voting List. Both Arendt and McKee were on PEVL. They listed the same home address for early ballots on their voter registration cards.

Oct. 24: McKee's mail-in ballot was received by the Maricopa County Elections Office. Her late mother's mail-in ballot was also returned the same day, 19 days after she died. 

According to the indictment, McKee "not being entitled to vote, knowingly voted" and "knowingly signed the name of (Mary Arendt) to a declaration under penalty of perjury located on the November 3, 2020, General Election early ballot envelope for deceased elector (Mary Arendt)."  

McKee has been a registered Republican for the last two decades. Arendt was a Republican for at least 35 years. 

How Allegations Came to Light

The allegations came to light in an unusual way.

A citizens' group called ezaz.org, led by Merissa Hamilton, embarked on a search for "dead voters" after the November election - voters who had died but were still on the registration rolls.

"This has to do with the sanctity of our vote and making sure we have clean voter rolls," Hamilton, a Republican who ran for Phoenix mayor last year, said in an interview Tuesday.

"We didn't care if someone was Republican or Democrat or independent." 

Voters Older Than 90 Under Scrutiny

But Hamilton and her team of 100-plus volunteers did care whether a registered voter might be dead.

The notion that dead voters had cast ballots was rife among Trump supporters after the November election. 

Hamilton said her team scoured 4,000 voter registrations for people over the age of 90.

The names were checked on the Lexis/Nexis database for information on whether a voter had died.

About 450 dead voters, the team believed, might still be on the rolls.

Hamilton confirmed that Mary Arendt's name was among those her team turned up.

Hamilton said she presented the information in December to the AG's Election Integrity Unit.

"They told us they would do a review of it, they would investigate," Hamilton said. 

RELATED: Arizona election audit enters new phase as ballot count ends

Lone Prosecution From AG Investigation

The McKee case is the lone prosecution to emerge from the AG's investigation of Hamilton's work.

Brnovich spokeswoman Katie Conner provided this account:

"This case arose from a complaint made by a Phoenix resident who submitted names of allegedly deceased individuals who may have voted in the 2020 general election. 

"While no crime was alleged to have occurred with the bulk of the names referred, agents thoroughly investigated the claims and determined almost every individual named in the provided complaint was either alive, that the deceased individual had not voted (even though they were sent a ballot in the mail), or the voter died after mailing their ballot. 

"One of the submitted names was substantiated as an alleged crime, leading to criminal charges." 

Does Punishment Fit Crime?

I asked Hamilton whether she believed a potential punishment of prison time fit McKee's alleged crime.

"It is definitely an emotional time period," Hamilton said of the days after McKee's mother died.

"I don't know if that fits the crime, but we do need to have consequences for voter fraud."

McKee has a pretrial conference scheduled for Aug. 11 in Maricopa County Superior Court.

How to Remove Dead Voter From Rolls

Marcus Milam, communications officer for the Maricopa County Recorder's Office, provided tools for removing a voter who has died from the registration rolls.

You can find instructions in the FAQs of the  Register.Maricopa.Vote page. Go to Question 17: "How do I cancel the record of a deceased voter?" 

Milam said the Recorder's Office also checks records from the Arizona Bureau of Vital Records, obituaries in local news sources, and allows voter families to report a voter's death via a notification form or by submitting a copy of the death certificate. 

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