On Vote-By-Mail and Untimely Death

A fantastic question:

If you vote by mail, but die before Election Day, does your vote count? It depends on where you lived.

Oregon counts ballots no matter what happens to the voter. So does Florida. But in South Dakota, if you die before the election, so does your vote.

Increasingly popular mail-in ballots mean voters can now choose candidates up to 60 days before an election, raising new questions about an age-old phenomenon normally associated with chicanery in places like Chicago: What should be done with the ballots of the recently dead?

I don’t have any particular wisdom on this one. It’s pretty clear that if someone dies in a car accident on the way to the voting booth, their vote doesn’t count. So by pure, unemotional fairness, neither should the vote of someone who voted by mail and died the day before election day. But I certainly don’t want to be the one arguing for canceling the vote of a soldier who was killed in action the day before the election…

3 thoughts on “On Vote-By-Mail and Untimely Death

  1. Ben,

    I disagree with your logic. If someone dies in a car accident on the way FROM the voting booth before the polls close their vote isn’t canceled. So by pure, unemotional fairness, neither should the vote of someone who voted by mail and died the day before election day.

    – Chris

  2. let’s think about this in terms of events in the voting process. We can simplify it to registration, authentication, ballot marking and ballot casting.

    It seems reasonable that after a voter has cast their ballot, it should be counted, no? The tricky bit is when “casting” takes place relative to the other steps. With vote-by-mail, “authentication” actually takes place, arguably, after “casting” (signatures are checked after the ballot is received via mail or hand-delivered to the polling place). If part of the authentication process includes a check on “is this person dead and therefore ineligible to vote?” it would seem that anyone who cast a VBM ballot and then died wouldn’t have their vote counted.

    Another tricky bit is the following case: say a voter votes in a polling place and makes it all the way through the ballot marking stage. That is, say this voter has a heart attack and dies on the way to casting their ballot in the ballot box (or optical scanner… or hitting the “vote” button on a touchscreen).

    While many jurisdictions have “fleeing voter” rules, it doesn’t seem like as many have “dead voter” rules.

  3. Chris: I guess I should have used the example of someone in a car crash the night before election day. As Joe points out, the issue is when do you consider the vote “cast in stone.” It seems odd to me that the date rules on eligibility would change from one method of voting to another.

    But like I said, I don’t feel strongly about this one way or the other, there are good arguments, and it’s a tough one. Yet another issue raised by Vote-by-mail.

Comments are closed.