We’ve all heard plenty of jokes (and true stories, for that matter) of the dead voting in US elections, particularly in the Chicago area. But this year, at least in Massachusetts, some dead people may actually have their votes counted thanks to the state legislature and the Secretary of State. That doesn’t mean that we should expect to see zombies dropping off ballots at polling stations, however. The new rule in question was put in place, as with everything else these days, because of the pandemic. Anyone who casts an early ballot – a process that’s already underway in the Bay State – and then passes away prior to November 3rd will still have their votes counted. (CBS Boston)
Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin said Monday that if someone votes early in the November election but dies before Election Day, their vote will be counted.
That’s a change from earlier voting rules that became necessary because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the past, if you voted early, died and elections officials discovered you were dead before Election Day, your vote would not be counted.
This new rule isn’t being described as permanent. It will only be in place as long as the pandemic continues to require social distancing. Of course, the way things are going at the moment that may wind up being a permanent condition.
All zombie jokes aside, what makes this rule rather contentious isn’t the fact that the votes of the recently deceased will be counted but the rationale offered for the change. For as long as voting has been taking place in Massachusetts, if you voted early (up to ten days in advance) via an absentee ballot and then died prior to the election, your vote would be rejected. But now the Secretary of State is saying that needs to change because twenty extra days of early voting were added to the calendar.
How on Earth does that make any difference in the scenario described above? If a vote is invalid because you died within ten days of the election, it doesn’t make any sense to say that the vote suddenly becomes valid if you died even earlier. What about the people who manage to remain among the living for the first twenty days of early voting but then expire in the final ten days? Will their ballots still be chucked into the circular file as they were previously?
The Secretary of State is quoted as describing this new rule as “not being new,” but that’s obviously disingenuous. He describes a hypothetical situation where a person mails in a ballot a couple of days early and then dies on election day. That vote would still be counted because “there’s no chance the material determined that they had died.” He’s basing that on the fact that the original rules only saw the vote being rejected “if elections officials discovered you were dead.” In other words, the vote was still technically illegitimate, but it wound up being counted anyway because nobody realized you had died.
That didn’t make the ballot legal. It was just an admission that the system wasn’t equipped with enough real-time data to detect everyone who may have died on the eve of the election. So the votes of the dead were never truly legal in that sense. This law makes them officially legal, so this rule sets an entirely new precedent, contrary to Bill Galvin’s claims.
In the end, none of this is going to matter much in terms of the outcome of the presidential election. There’s no way that Donald Trump is going to carry blue Massachusetts and the number of people whose votes would fall under this rule should be vanishingly small. But that doesn’t mean that a couple of municipal or county elections might not be affected. Welcome to Massachusetts, where those who are no longer among us can still make their voices heard.
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