How do states ensure dead people’s ballots aren’t counted?

To ensure dead people's ballots aren't counted, election officials regularly use death records to update voter registration files

Ali Swenson
Friday 21 October 2022 16:46 BST
Election 2022 Dead Voters Fact Focus
Election 2022 Dead Voters Fact Focus (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

How do states ensure dead people’s ballots aren’t counted?

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 files.

Election clerks may also check for voter deaths through other means, such as coordinating with motor vehicle departments to track canceled driver’s licenses, searching for published obituaries or processing letters from the deceased person’s estate.

Even if a dead voter's ballot mistakenly gets mailed, signature verification and voter fraud laws create additional safeguards against anyone else filling it out and submitting it. Voters who forge dead relatives’ signatures on ballots can face fines, probation or prison. And in some states, absentee voting requirements such as witness signatures or notarization add an extra barrier to prevent this rare form of voter fraud.

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

But these claims, which spread in many states including Arizona, Virginia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, were found to be false.

When Arizona’s attorney general investigated claims that 282 dead people’s ballots were cast in 2020, he found just one case was substantiated.

When Republican lawmakers in Michigan investigated a list of over 200 supposedly dead voters in Wayne County, they found just two. The first was due to a clerical error in which a son had been confused with his dead father and the second involved a 92-year-old woman who had submitted her ballot early, then 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 votes from absentee voters who cast a ballot, then 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 scouring voter files often mistake a living voter for a deceased voter if they have similar names, birthdays or hometowns, resulting in false fraud claims, said Jason Roberts, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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

There are occasional instances of voter fraud by impersonating a dead person. For example, a Las Vegas man admitted voting his dead 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 was sentenced to five years of probation.

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


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