USA: can ballots of deceased people be counted?

US election officials regularly check death records. In many states, vital statistics agencies send them monthly lists of people who have died, which officials use to update voter registration records.

Election clerks may also verify the death of voters by other means, such as coordinating with departments of motor vehicles to track canceled driver’s licenses, searching for published obituaries, or processing letters testamentary of the deceased person’s estate. .

Even if a deceased voter’s ballot is mailed in error, the signature verification and voter fraud laws create additional safeguards against anyone else who fills out and mails it. Voters who forge the signatures of their deceased relatives on ballots can face fines, probation or prison. And in some states absentee voting requirements, such as witness signatures or notarization, add an additional barrier to preventing this rare form of voter fraud.

After the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump and his supporters claimed that thousands of votes had been fraudulently cast on behalf of deceased voters and even named specific deceased individuals whose ballots were allegedly counted.

But these claims that spread across many states, including Arizona, Virginia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia, turned out to be false.

When the Arizona attorney general investigated claims that 282 votes were cast for deceased people in 2020, he found that only one case was substantiated.

When Michigan Republican lawmakers investigated a list of more than 200 allegedly dead voters in Wayne County, they found just two. The first was due to a clerical error in which a son had been mistaken for her deceased father, and the second involved a 92-year-old woman who sent in her ballot too soon and died four days before the election. .

Whether or not a vote like hers counts depends on state law.

At least 11 states — nine by statute and two based on attorney general opinions — prohibit counting the votes of absentee voters who return a ballot and die before Election Day, while nine states specifically allow it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states are silent on the matter.

Election integrity groups that review voter files often mistake a living voter for a deceased voter if they have similar names, dates of birth or places of residence, leading to false claims of fraud, said Jason Roberts, a science professor policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“You may think it’s weird that someone with the same name and date of birth has died, but it’s actually not that weird when you think about a country of 350 million people,” Roberts said. “It happens a lot.”

There are occasional cases of voter fraud by impersonating a deceased person. For example, a Las Vegas man admitted to voting his late wife’s ballot in 2020 and received a fine and probation for the crime. A Pennsylvania man who pleaded guilty to voting his dead mother’s ballot in 2020 has been sentenced to five years probation.

However, Roberts said only a handful of people attempt this type of fraud in each election, making it “very, very rare.”


The HPD answers your questions about the election in this series. Send them to: [email protected]. Read more here:

USA: how are mail-in and absentee votes verified?

USA: Am I allowed to deliver someone else’s ballot?

USA: can non-citizens vote in the United States?

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