Thursday, July 3, 2014 —
RALEIGH – The specter of dead people voting in America is almost as old as the republic itself. Countless stories abound, some real and some imagined, of dead voters allegedly “casting ballots” and tilting elections in favor of some unscrupulous politician with no qualms about stealing an election instead of earning it outright.
However, a new bill in the N.C. General Assembly would allow a dead person’s vote to be counted when legitimate conditions are met, meaning the voter was indeed alive, legally registered and actually cast the ballot him or herself before passing away.
House Bill 1267 deals specifically with the situation where a voter casts an absentee vote by mail or in-person at an early voting site, but then dies prior to Election Day. Currently, that ballot can be challenged and thrown out, but the new measure would amend the law so that vote would still count.
While this doesn’t seem like a very common occurrence, there was a fairly high-profile case during this year’s primary election. The father of Mark Harris, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, cast an absentee vote in the primary, presumably for his son, but passed away prior to the actual Election Day. His vote was challenged and thrown out.
Now one of Harris’ former rivals in that U.S. Senate contest, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, is a primary sponsor of the bill, known as the “Everette Harris Act” after Mark Harris’ late father. The legislation was recently heard in the House Elections Committee where it passed unanimously and will soon come up for a vote on the House floor.
If enacted, the bill would add some clarity to the issue of whether or not a vote should be valid under these unique circumstances. By doing so, it would give citizens comfort that once their absentee ballot is sealed and returned, or after they cast a ballot at an early voting location, their vote will be counted, regardless of what happens between that moment and Election Day.
Much of the debate over our election laws last year centered around the idea of preserving the integrity of our election system while ensuring that every lawful vote is counted. It seems like this new legislation could be a sensible part of that effort.
Whether or not the situation covered by this bill is all that prevalent in North Carolina, sometimes a ballot can in fact be legally cast before a citizen’s death. It only seems fair that their final vote should be counted.
Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUp date.com. He can be contacted at lau firstname.lastname@example.org.