NCSL does not run elections and cannot provide legal advice. If you are a voter looking for assistance, please contact your local election official. You can find your local election official’s website and contact information by using this database from the US Vote Foundation.
When an eligible voter casts an absentee (or mail) ballot, then dies before the election, does the ballot still count?
Some states are silent on this issue. Others address it directly in statute, either by prohibiting or permitting the counting of ballots from voters who die before Election Day.
- Eight states—Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia—have statutes that explicitly permit counting absentee ballots cast by voters who die before Election Day; one state—Connecticut—only counts these ballots if the deceased voter is a member of the armed services.
- Ten states—Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin— have statutes that explicitly prohibit counting absentee ballots cast by voters who die before Election Day. Missouri states that such ballots be rejected only if sufficient evidence is shown to an election authority that the voter has died before the opening of the polls on Election Day, and the deceased voter’s ballot is still sealed in the ballot envelope.
- At least two states—Kentucky and Mississippi—also prohibit counting deceased voters’ ballots, but through attorneys general opinions, rather than statute.
- In the remaining 29 states, NCSL has not found citations indicating whether absentee/mail ballots from voters who die before Election Day are to be counted.
As a practical matter, it is hard to retrieve ballots from people who have died between casting their votes and Election Day. Once the absentee ballot has been verified and removed from the envelope for counting, the ballot cannot be retraced to the voter.
Catching a ballot, then, is only possible when it is still in its return envelope, and only in cases where election officials have received notice of the death.
For more on mail/absentee voting, see NCSL’s Voting Outside the Polling Place.