Dead-voter bill passes in Senate Elections Committee

A local legislator’s bill that would ensure the votes of dead people count in the Indiana General Assembly passed Monday.

State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, introduced Senate Bill 155, which would require that an absentee ballot completed by a voter who subsequently dies before Election Day to be counted as it would be had the voter not died.

The bill passed by a 9-0 vote Monday in the Senate Elections Committee, of which Walker is chairman. It now moves to the Senate floor for further consideration.

The need for the bill is twofold, Walker said. First, current regulations regarding early ballots of deceased voters are too burdensome. Secondly, it’s important for families to know that the wishes of the deceased family member regarding their vote are honored.

County clerks and their staffs are required by law to cross-check absentee ballots against information about residents who have died and to invalidate the votes of those who are deceased through an Election Board process, said Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps, who said he supports the bill.

“It is a lot of work,” Phelps said of the checking process, adding that cases of absentee voters who die before Election Day are rare.

Only once has it happened locally that he knows of since 2011. However, thousands of ballots have to be checked in Bartholomew — even more in larger counties, Phelps said.

It’s likely the votes of some dead voters already are getting through — especially if they die over the weekend before Election Day, held on a Tuesday, and the information is not received in time, Phelps said.

Walker said the bill is not one that would allow for fraud because no voter ID safeguards are changing.

“This bill does not create the possibility for deceased persons to cast a ballot,” Walker said.

A more emotional issue, Walker and Phelps said, involves the absentee ballots mailed by someone serving in the military and sacrificing for their country who subsequently dies after mailing the ballot.

“I have heard about those in the military. They are serving, and the last thing they wanted to do was vote, and you are taking that away,” Phelps said.

The Association of the Clerks of the Circuit Courts of Indiana — of which Phelps is co-chair of its legislative committee — approached Walker in late summer about supporting the legislation, he said.

However, questions have been raised over whether Walker’s proposal is allowed under Indiana’s constitution.

The issue has come up before. Former Indiana Rep. Frank McCloskey, a Democrat, had his absentee ballot thrown out in 2004 because he died before Election Day.

Phelps said he knows the bill faces a tall task, because Secretary of State Connie Lawson opposes it, and past efforts with such legislation have failed.

“This is a bill I know the clerk’s association has been trying to get passed for quite a few years,” Phelps said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

What's next

Senate Bill 155, which would allow absentee ballots cast by people who die before election day to count, could receive a second reading by Wednesday or Thursday — when amendments could be offered again — and possibly a third and final Senate reading next week. If passed by the Senate, it would move to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Source: State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, chairman of the Indiana Senate Elections Committee.

Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.