Some states allow ballots if voters die before electionTuesday, October 20, 2020
ATLANTA, United States (AP) — At 90 years old and living through a global pandemic, Hannah Carson knows time may be short. She wasted no time returning her absentee ballot for this year's election.
As soon as it arrived at her senior living community, she filled it out and sent it back to her local election office in Charlotte, North Carolina. If something were to happen and she doesn't make it to election day, Carson said she hopes her ballot will remain valid.
“I should think I should count, given all the years I have been here,” she said.
In North Carolina, a ballot cast by someone who subsequently dies can be set aside if a challenge is filed before election day with the county board of elections.
Questions over whether ballots will count if someone votes early but dies before election day are especially pressing this year, amid a coronavirus outbreak that has been especially perilous for older Americans. People 85 years and older represent nearly one in three deaths from COVID-19 in the US. As an election looms, the odds against older people who contract the virus are on the minds of the elderly and their family members.
Seventeen states prohibit counting ballots cast by someone who subsequently dies before the election, but 10 states specifically allow it. The law is silent in the rest of the country, according to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Even though a law might require such ballots to be rejected, it's likely that some could still count depending on when the person dies and when election officials find out about the death.
“The law may say that the ballot of a person who dies in that situation can't be counted, but it is a hard law to follow,” said Wendy Underhill, head of elections for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
When someone dies close to an election, it takes time for death records to be updated, and there is a narrow window between when a ballot is cast and counted. Colorado in 2016 had between 15 and 20 instances of voters who cast a ballot by mail and then died before election day. All were counted.
In Michigan's primary earlier this year, 864 ballots were rejected because the voters died before the election even though they were alive when they filled them out.
The president's son, Donald Trump Jr tweeted a link to a story about the dead voters in Michigan that was later debunked for misrepresenting the issue. With President Trump making unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, the question of whether ballots will count if early voters die soon after could be a source of further conspiracies.
Studies have shown that voter fraud is exceptionally rare. There are numerous safeguards built into the system to ensure that only voters eligible to vote can do so, and that they cast only one ballot. Election officials say that when fraud does happen, people are caught and prosecuted.
“There have been umpteen examples of some group claiming a whole bunch of people casting ballots after they died,” said Justin Levitt, an election law expert who has studied voter fraud in depth. “These things don't pan out.”
In most cases, claims of dead voters are based on poor information or a faulty analysis that fails to account for the many people who share the same name and birthdate, Levitt said.
In an exceptionally small number of cases, there is fraud. Levitt said this typically involves someone wanting to honour the wishes of a loved one who recently died and either knowingly or not commits a crime by filling out that ballot.
An election judge from southern Illinois was charged in 2016 with voter fraud after she filled out a ballot for her late husband because she said he would have wanted Trump to be president.
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