My grandfather voted Democrat for the first time. This never would have happened if he were still alive.
Yes, I know — you’ve heard the awful dad joke before. You’ve probably told it. The reason it exists is that there’s some grain of truth to it: Dead people voting is a problem. In New York’s 22nd Congressional District, it’s just not quite the way you would ordinarily think of it.
Yet, in a rematch between Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi and GOP challenger Claudia Tenney, it could make all the difference.
According to the New York Post, the race — which was at a razor-thin margin of a few hundred votes as of Tuesday, with Tenney ahead of the incumbent — could hinge on the status of mail-in ballots currently being challenged in court. These include six ballots Brindisi’s team argued to be included that were excluded by the Oswego County Board of Elections and two ballots the Tenney campaign asked to be excluded because they were dropped off in the New York City borough of Queens.
And in three separate cases, the people who sent them were dead.
Those three, according to The Post-Standard of Syracuse, were Madison County individuals whose votes were cast in the race but who died before Election Day.
“You need to be a registered voter to vote, and upon death you cease to be registered,” said Madison County Election Commissioner Laura Costello.
So, open-and-shut case? Well, there’s a bit of a problem, and it happens when a similar situation happens in another state. But first, some history.
Brindisi was one of the 2018 class of freshman Democrats, having ousted Tenney from her seat. President Donald Trump won the district, which runs north through central New York from the Pennsylvania border to Lake Ontario, by 16 points in 2016.
New York has been molasses-slow in counting the vote in the year of the mail-in ballot — several Democratic primary races in New York City weren’t resolved until months later, including one which resulted in a double-digit win — so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the race is up in the air. Given the thin margins, it goes to reason that people who die between casting their ballot and Election Day could end up making a difference.
Originally, the three ballots from deceased voters were considered a cause for alarm, given the potentiality for voter fraud.
Or, to some people, not just the potentiality: “It is an election fraud. It’s a felony,” Doug Kellner, co-chairman of the state Board of Elections, told the Post.
“This is a known problem of voting by mail. It should be investigated.”
That’s not necessarily the case — at least not that we know of right now. From what we can tell, there’s just one more dead person who voted in the 22nd Congressional District than there were people who dropped off their ballots in Queens, for whatever reason.
Herein lies one problem: There isn’t any consistent policy regarding how to deal with early voters who die before Election Day, where there even is a policy.
In 14 states, like New York, you don’t get to vote if you’re not living on Election Day, no matter whether you sent in your ballot early. In 13 states, the vote counts.
You may have noticed, however, that doesn’t add up to 50. That’s because in 23 other states, there’s no explicit policy. It’s a big fat shrug emoji. It might as well be Schrödinger’s vote — it counts and it doesn’t at the same time, until a court rules on it.
And then there’s another problem: Are we sure we’re getting all of these ballots?
The Post-Standard noted these ballots were discovered during a “routine audit” by the county after the election. Does this happen in every county? Are there uniform procedures for conducting a “routine audit” to find out whether mail-in voters died between when they cast their ballot and Election Day? This seems far-fetched, given there aren’t uniform policies to deal with how the votes of the recently deceased are counted nationwide.
For all intents and purposes, this is important for House seats. It would be improbable for enough people to die in a state between when they cast their ballot and Election Day to affect a Senate race. And then you look at the presidential race — that’d be crazy.
I mean, you’d need the Electoral College to come down to a few hundred votes in a massive swing state. For it to be an issue in an election like 2020’s — with huge swaths of the population casting their ballot via mail or in early voting — it’d probably need to be a state with a large elderly population, too. Where are you going to find that? Maybe Florida, say — a state where a few hundred votes decided who would be president back in 2000.
Still feel so sanguine about the effortlessness of mail-in voting?
For now, New York’s 22nd Congressional District remains one of four uncalled races in the United States. Oswego County State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte has issued an injunction forbidding the eight county boards of elections who would have to certify the district’s votes from certifying them until Monday to give both sides time to make their case, according to WSYR-TV. In the meantime, more dead voters might emerge.
It’s not the type of dead voter many thought they’d see during the 2020 election cycle — but it’s still a perfectly valid reason to end our short, bitter experiment with mass mail-in voting with this cycle.
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