By Wendy Underhill
What happens when an eligible voter casts an absentee ballot and then passes away before Election Day? This question comes up more and more, as pre-Election Day voting gains in popularity.
Do these pre-Election Day votes count? Like everything else related to elections, the answer is that it varies from state to state. Statutes in some states, such as Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Illinois, New Jersey and South Dakota, say that these votes are not to be counted. Other states, such as Montana and Louisiana, are equally clear that these votes are to be counted. (In 2012 Louisiana repealed its provision that said the vote of someone who died should not be counted, reasoning that if someone took the trouble to vote early, the vote should be counted.)
Regardless of the law, it is hard to retrieve a voted ballot. Once the secrecy envelope with the voters' signature is separated from the ballot itself, the ballot can't be pulled back out of the pile. So it is only paper ballots that are still in their envelopes that can be compared to death records—and often those records aren't in the hands of election officials for some weeks. In other words, not counting these ballots is harder than it might seem. Most statutes make it clear that these ballots are to be rejected only if the election administrators know about the death--and also that if a vote is counted that shouldn't have been, it does not invalidate the election.
Unlike many election policy questions, this one does not have a partisan edge. Death makes no distinction between Democrats, Republicans and independents as they cast their absentee ballots.