Friday, September 26, 2008

Does a Dead Person's Vote Count?

South face of the White House.Image via WikipediaDuring these feisty political times in the United States, it is important to remember that we should all go out and vote. But it is important to remember there are many people who can't get out to vote on Election Day or may have a short enough prognosis resulting in death before Election Day. Being engaged in the political process and fulfilling one's civic duty may be important roles to be fulfilled for dying patients.

Approximately 5,500 people die each day in the US and since many states have absentee voting systems in place as early as this week this could be a big impact. 38 days left until Election Day multiplied by 5,500 voters = 209,000 votes! Are hospice patients the new soccer moms?

Ensuring your patient can vote if that is something they want to achieve before death is an important function for hospice and palliative care staff. Here are some useful links and tips to consider:

  • If you are going to get out the vote with hospice patients, you should ask universally, and not just the patients who have the same political signs in their yard as the bumper sticker on your car.
  • If absentee voting is available in your state, pursue it now. One for the Table has a National Absentee Ballot Guide with a map linking to each state's guideline and directions.
  • Know your state law for the validity of a dead person's absentee vote. Some states count an absentee vote from a deceased person if they died before election day, others do not. I have a partial list below, if you do find the answer for your state, please add it in the comments section with a link if possible to a source.
  • Consider if your state has early in-person voting if that is feasible for the patient.
  • Voter fraud is a felony charge, so if you think you might take advantage of this situation, it would pay to think twice.
  • There is no test of competence in voting (insert political joke about elected representatives here), so don't bother questioning it, because there is not legal ground as far as I have researched.
  • The issue for clearly incapacitated people (such as in the ICU, in a coma, PVS) is not clear. Can voting be a part of your advance directive? I don't think it has been tested in court. Yet.
  • In many areas those under guardianship may not vote. Please check your local laws to clarify.
If you have more questions, I will try to answer them the best I can, please post them in the comments.

States Allowing
Early (Absentee/In-person) Votes Cast by a Living Person Before Election Day Who Dies Before Election Day

California
Montana
Florida
Ohio
Oregon
Texas
Tennessee
Washington
West Virginia

States Forbidding
Early (Absentee/In-person) Votes Cast by a Living Person Before Election Day Who Dies Before Election Day


Colorado
Idaho
Kentucky

Minnesota
North Carolina

South Dakota

States with Unknown Approach**
* Alabama
* Alaska
* American Samoa
* Arizona
* Arkansas
* Connecticut
* Delaware
* District of Columbia
* Georgia
* Guam
* Hawaii
* Illinois
* Indiana
* Iowa
* Kansas
* Louisiana
* Maine
* Maryland
* Massachusetts
* Michigan
* Mississippi
* Missouri
* Nebraska
* Nevada
* New Hampshire
* New Jersey
* New Mexico
* New York
* North Dakota
* Northern Marianas Islands
* Oklahoma
* Pennsylvania
* Puerto Rico
* Rhode Island
* South Carolina
* Utah
* Vermont
* Virginia
* Virgin Islands
* Washington
* Wisconsin
* Wyoming

**Many states do not have the people-power or technology to match records and so it they may not have a clear law on the books in how to treat this situation. But if you see your state listed as Unknown help other readers out and do a little Google search, it would just take 5 minutes.
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