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What happens if you vote absentee in Indiana, then die before Election Day?

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Posted at 1:46 PM, Oct 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-20 15:06:18-04

INDIANAPOLIS – If you vote absentee, you expect your vote to count on Election Day. But what happens if you die after submitting your ballot but before Election Day?

In short, your vote isn’t supposed to count in Indiana if that happens. States have different laws and policies about what to do about counting absentee ballots of a recently deceased person.

In the US, 10 states allow your absentee vote to count if you die before Election Day, according to the Associated Press. California is one of those states. But Indiana is one of 17 states that prohibit counting absentee ballots of deceased people.

In Indiana, the statewide voter registration rolls are frequently updated with information from the Indiana State Department of Health and the Social Security Administration to remove those who have died. If a person casts an absentee ballot then dies, the county election officials should be able to check the latest information to disqualify the ballot.

But, State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said it’s a laborious process for those county officials.

“It’s a good way to make an error, it’s painstaking, it takes documentation,” he said. “It’s a lot of extra work. … It’s difficult to know if you’ve done that job successfully.”

If a person voted absentee but died the day before Election Day or even the morning of the election, it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to know that person died before counting their ballot.

“Presumably, there’s information that never makes it back to the clerk’s office,” Walker said. “To complete the task perfectly is probably impossible.”

That’s why Walker introduced a bill in 2018 to allow those votes to count. He primarily wanted to cut down on the amount of work the officials must do and speed up the process of counting votes.

He also knows the arguments people have of simply wanting those votes to count. For example, if somebody serving in the military sends an absentee ballot in and is killed overseas, should their last wishes be honored?

“I understand that sentiment, but that wasn’t what was driving the bill,” Walker said.

His bill, Senate Bill 155, overwhelmingly passed the Senate by a vote of 45-2, but didn’t receive a hearing in the House.

Walker said it was determined that the bill would be unconstitutional if passed.

Indiana’s constitution states that a voter must be a citizen and a resident for 30 days in the precinct they’re voting in. Since dead people aren’t citizens and don’t have residency, they aren’t considered eligible voters.

“Everyone sort of agrees that there was no real contention with the underlying issue,” Walker said. “It would require a change in the constitution.”

Changing the constitution in Indiana is a very difficult process. The amendment in question must be approved by both the state’s House of Representatives and Senate two years in a row. Only then will it be put on a ballot at the next general election. If an amendment was introduced in the upcoming legislative session, the earliest it could be on a ballot is 2023.