The Voting Dead

Sloppy thinking by those who object to vote-by-mail.

Last night on memeorandum I noticed a story about dead people voting by mail in Michigan. This led me to this Detroit News story: Benson: 6,400 Michigan absentee ballots rejected for late arrival.

More than 6,400 of Michigan’s 10,600 absentee ballots rejected Aug. 4 were turned away because they arrived after Election Day, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office said Friday.

Another 2,225 ballots were discarded because there was no signature on the envelope; 1,111 were rejected because the voter moved; and 846 were not accepted because the voter was dead, according to data from Benson’s office. 

Those individuals listed as dead or moved include voters who died or moved out of the jurisdiction after submitting their absentee ballots, Benson’s spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer said. The state gets monthly updates from the Social Security Administration regarding new Michigan deaths so officials can identify ballots filed by people who have since died.

The 846 for people who had died after casting their ballot was cast at Breitbart and Gateway Pundit as proof of the nefariousness of vote-by-mail. The dead vote!

But, of course, the most important part of this story tells us the opposite: that the system caught the ballots from the recently deceased and did not count those votes. It is, therefore, proof of the system working, not the other way around.

Indeed, more zombie ballots were identified in the November election (both in absolute and percentage terms):

The number of deceased voters is actually less than the November 2016 election, when 1,782 absentee ballots were rejected because the voter had died in an election that had 400,000 fewer absentee ballots than the Aug. 4 primary.

Let’s consider some numbers (unlike our in outrage-based right-wing media such as those cited above).

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, an average of 262 death occurred it the state per day in 2018. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that number is operative in 2020. That means just under 2000 people die in Michigan in a week (granted not all of them are of voting age, and not all of them would have voted). It is unclear to me how big a gap might exist between the casting of the ballot by mail and election day, but it would seem that it is possible that a span of multiple weeks is possible, making 846 deaths not surprising.

Again: the system checks for this. Catching these ballots is evidence the system works, not the other way around.

Another number to consider:

Michigan residents voted absentee in record numbers Aug. 4, sending 1.6 million absentee ballots compared with the prior record of 1.27 million absentee voters in the November presidential election.

846/1,600,000=.00052875 or .053% of the absentee ballots sent out.

I will note, the real concern are the over 6,000 that arrived late and the over 2,000 for lack of signature as those are potentially real votes that were not counted.

Along these same lines, Trump and friends trying to say that dogs and cats are getting absentee ballots are conflating getting actual ballots (which would requite state confirmation of residency and citizenship) with getting an application for voter registration (which would obviously be rejected if attempted).

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Those making this argument are intentionally fraudulent, knowing that many, wanting to believe Trump, won’t or can’t think though the argument. I had this discussion with a Trump loving friend the other day and he wouldn’t accept the logic that the ballots being caught were proof the system works. Since he’s an engineer, I framed the argument in terms of safety inspections. He got that and conceded my point on the ballot process, but he wouldn’t give up the trumpian framing that vote by mail is fraudulent.

  2. Teve says:

    Dan Crenshaw is posting this kind of garbage on Twitter right now. It really is amazing how dishonest he and the other Republicans are.

  3. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Did he mention where he believed the fraud was entailed?

  4. Sleeping Dog says:


    We were talking about the Michigan story that Dr T wrote about above.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    The most incredible thing about all of this is how Trump himself uses mail voting but somehow the whole process is supposedly fraudulent? And, of course, the Trump supporters can’t see the inconsistency of that…

  6. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I know, but if he agreed with you that the ballots being caught proved that the system worked, where and how does he think the fraud occurs? Or am I looking for logic where none exists?

  7. Paine says:

    Here in Washington State we are entirely vote by mail, but we also have dedicated ballot drop boxes available so one can simply bypass the USPS. Last year when I voted a few weeks later I received a notice in the mail informing me that my signature didn’t match what they had on record so I needed to submit a supplemental form, which I did. So yes, someone is checking against signatures on file and the system does work.

  8. CSK says:

    @An Interested Party:
    Well, Trump maintains that voting by absentee ballot is great, whereas voting by mail is totally corrupt.

  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    @An Interested Party:

    There wasn’t any logic, just pure cool aid. Michigan is dismissed as lucky to have caught the ballots, but other states may not. Add to that certainty, with no evidence that the disallowed ballots were primarily Dem.

    My friend has a huge blind spot and I try not to poke at it too often, as I value him as a friend. I really don’t want to be the kind of person, who only has friends who mostly agree with us politically.

  10. Michael Cain says:

    The Denver Post ran a story the other day about the number of election officials from other states that are flying in to talk to county recorders here about conducting large-scale mail balloting.

  11. steve says:

    Dead people voting has been studied. What happens is that a widow (almost always the case) receives a ballot for her recently deceased spouse. Often someone in their 70s-80s with some cognitive deficits. They know how their spouse would have wanted to vote so they vote for them. So their is rarely fraudulent intent. Most of these get caught.


  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @An Interested Party: Can’t, or don’t want to see the inconsistency? Not a generous spirit. I’ll take malice over ignorance any time.


    Or am I looking for logic where none exists?


  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sleeping Dog: My friend has a huge blind spot and I try not to poke at it too often, as I value him as a friend.

    I have a couple friends like that and I poke their blind spot every chance I get. I usually receive a grumblefuckyougrumble response and just smile like the cat that ate the canary. If they complain too loud, I say, “If you can’t take a fuck, joke you.”

  14. ImProPer says:

    While dead people voting, sounds disturbing, living people, trying to make it difficult for other living people to vote is far more troubling. Thanks for the clarification about Michigan, and the Social Security updates.
    My line of work has me around alot of Trump supporters, when this issue has come up I have been using an old right-wing cliché “We are a Republic, not a Democracy”. States and thier communities tally the votes of it’s citizens, not the President or his minions. It seems to work, at least on an individual level

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    That’s interesting about Michigan. When my mom passed away I was told by both her estate lawyer and the Department of Elections in Washington that I would need to request that she be removed from the voter rolls as the estate representative. It was easy enough to do, but it doesn’t seem to happen here automatically.

  16. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: FWIW, about 10 years ago, when my mother-in-law died and I was dealing with the funeral home, they had sent me a checklist of things to do.
    That checklist did not include notification to Social Security, so I asked the funeral director about it.
    What he told me was that Funeral Homes are required by federal law to report each person’s death to Social Security. Interesting

  17. de stijl says:

    As long as they do not rise from the grave and want to eat our brains.

    We have rules and regs to prevent chicanery that Rs disregard for fantasy speculation. I thought they were rock-ribbed realists.

    It is as almost as if the desire was voter suppression. Where would I get that idea?

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @de stijl: I thought they were rock-ribbed realists.

    That’s why Q is so popular on the right.

  19. de stijl says:

    The Q shit is funny, but stuff happening in multiple states to suppress votes is directly on point now.

    Even ignoring USPS chicanery.

    We are so fucked.

  20. Shumwadu says:

    This article states:
    “The 846 for people who had died after casting their ballot”

    The linked article actually says:
    “Those individuals listed as dead or moved include voters who died or moved out of the jurisdiction after submitting their absentee ballots”

    When you read an article written with bias that confirms your bias, your interpretation will be biased as well. This is a prime example of why so much is being said and so little is being done. The truth is purposely being obscured so that everyone can make their point. They could have simply published complete and accurate numbers and we could all look at them and know exactly how many were fraudulent and how many were not. But they didn’t and now one group claims they are all fraudulent and the other groups claims that none of them are.

    They are both WRONG! Some of those individuals died after casting their vote, which is normal and not a problem at all. Some of those individuals were dead before the ballot was filled out, which is fraud. We don’t know how many fit into each category. What we do know for sure is that government officials are purposely obscuring the truth and the media outlets and others on their side are helping them do it.

  21. @Shumwadu:

    The linked article actually says:
    “Those individuals listed as dead or moved include voters who died or moved out of the jurisdiction after submitting their absentee ballots”

    That passage, which is quoted above, references the 846 who died plus ” 1,111 were rejected because the voter moved” (so I am not sure what point you are trying to make).

    Some of those individuals were dead before the ballot was filled out, which is fraud.

    Let’s assume that is true (it may very well be). Would not the salient fact be that those ballots were caught and not counted?