By Erica Irish
INDIANAPOLIS—Voters who die between the time they cast an absentee ballot and the day of the election may soon be sure their vote will be counted if a bill pending in the state Senate becomes law.
“What we have to do now is, if we’re notified before Election Day that the voter has died, we have to get a bipartisan team together to go through our ballots and find that ballot,” said Wendy Hudson, an Elkhart county clerk who is also with the Association of Clerks of Circuit Courts of Indiana. “When we’re talking about the mail ballot, we could be talking about 10, 12,000 ballots.”
Hudson testified Monday before the Senate Elections Committee where members heard Senate Bill 155, authored by Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus. The bill, if passed, would do away with requirements for the removal of submitted absentee votes by citizens who unexpectedly die before Election Day.
SB 155 would permit absentee votes cast by citizens that would have otherwise been accepted to still count in that election. For the clerks responsible for tallying these votes, the hours-long searches and additional staff usually required for locating absentee ballots would become unnecessary.
“The clerks association has brought this idea forward several sessions in a row,” Hudson said. “We feel that the absentee ballot that’s already cast, as long as we have no other reason to challenge it, if the voter dies before election day, we should be able to count that ballot.”
Current Indiana law says counting a vote of a person who died could invalidate an election. Walker, however, explained these votes may still be overlooked regardless of existing law and is ultimately more work than clerks’ offices can afford during election season.
“It’s clear that this is a significant amount of work for what amounts to a, in any case I’ve ever heard of or been told of, very inconsequential total,” Walker said.
While testifying, Hudson said searches for invalid absentee ballots are, in her experience, rare.
Brad King, Republican co-chair of the Indiana Election Division, voiced personal concerns and arguments on behalf of Connie Lawson, Indiana’s Secretary of State.
King advised the committee to consider moving to amend the state constitution to clarify what it means to be a citizen with voting rights before enacting SB 155.
“The only legal commentary I’ve found clearly implies that citizenship ends at death. There is no ongoing citizenship, rights or responsibilities,” King said.
Walker said his bill’s intent is better understood by defining what “voting” means to everyday citizens.
“It raises the issue of the common use of the word ‘vote’ and the legal definition,” Walker said. “When the Indiana constitution was written, we didn’t really have early voting opportunities.”
The election committee passed SB 155 to the Senate floor in a 9-0 vote.
Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.