An absentee ballot for the upcoming presidential election. (Photo by Pat Kreitlow)
An absentee ballot for the upcoming presidential election. (Photo by Pat Kreitlow)

Some states count dead voters’ ballots, while others discard them.

Absentee voters who died before Election Day will still have their ballots counted in 10 states, but Wisconsin is not one of them.

Seventeen states, including Wisconsin, specifically prohibit dead people’s votes from being counted. Twenty-three states do not have laws on the books.

“Absentee ballots are not considered cast until Election Day,” according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. “If the voter is deceased at the time the absentee ballot is being processed at the polling place, the ballot cannot be counted.”

There is no guarantee someone will be removed from voter rolls as soon as they die, but there are several mechanisms for local and state election officials to monitor deaths, according to Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney. Voter records are updated “all the time” using death certificates from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, obituaries, death notices, and “other credible information,” Magney wrote in an email to UpNorthNews.

“When the clerk marks a voter as deceased, the voter’s name will no longer appear on the poll book that is printed a few days before the election,” Magney wrote. “If a voter’s name isn’t on the poll list, the poll workers cannot count an absentee ballot from that voter on Election Day.”

State law prohibits election officials from counting absentee ballots until Election Day—something a bipartisan group of lawmakers ranging from Republican Sen. Ron Johnson to the Democratic Milwaukee Common Council has unsuccessfully lobbied the GOP-controlled Legislature to change as absentee votes pile up in local clerks’ offices in the wake of a surge in mailed votes due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), who have not called the Assembly or Senate into session for more than six months, have ignored those requests despite concerns that a deluge of absentee ballots will lead to delayed election results.