Dead voters—or at least votes recorded in the name of someone who has died—have drawn much attention in the disputed outcome of the presidential election.
Ballots apparently cast by dead registered voters make up one of many fraud allegations lodged by President Donald Trump’s campaign legal team either in court or in press conferences.
As expected, former Vice President Joe Biden won the Electoral College vote Dec. 14 to choose the next president, exceeding the required 270 votes. However, the Trump campaign still disputes the outcome and Trump has not conceded the Nov. 3 election to Biden.
Here are four things to know about votes cast in the name of dead people.
1. What Are Specific Examples in 2020?
Trump campaign surrogate Corey Lewandowski provided what he said was “one concrete example,” referring to Denise Ondick of West Homestead in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, who died Oct. 22.
The left-leaning FactCheck.org reports that election officials confirm Ondick’s absentee ballot application arrived Oct. 23, and that a ballot was mailed back and her vote was recorded.
Ondick’s daughter told The Philadelphia Inquirer that she helped her mother fill out an application for a mail-in ballot before her mother died of cancer, but didn’t know why the ballot would have been sent back to election officials after her death.
Ondick’s husband told the newspaper that he could not remember whether he did anything with the ballot after it arrived. Allegheny County election officials said at the time that they would investigate.
In Nevada, the Secretary of State’s Office investigated a ballot cast in the name of Rosemarie Hartle. The ballot included her signature, but Hartle died in 2017, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Election officials in Clark County, Nevada, told the Review-Journal that they verified that the signatures matched. They later sent the information to state officials for investigation.
Clark County officials mailed a ballot Oct. 9 to Fred Stokes Jr., who died in 2017. Still, the county marked a ballot in Stokes’ name as “completed” Oct. 31, The Federalist reported.
The Nevada Republican Party sent a staffer to the address, where a female resident refused to give her name. She told the staffer that Fred Stokes III is a registered voter who lives at the same address.
The younger Stokes is recorded as having voted in person Oct. 23.
The Trump campaign has offered several other examples. Its press releases named seven residents of Georgia and Pennsylvania who appear to have voted despite having died years ago. Campaign representatives referred to other names in interviews.
Although some of those names went viral, it didn’t take the mainstream media long to note gleefully that in some cases the Trump campaign referred to someone with a name similar to that of a deceased voter, or to a voter who actually is still alive.
However, in a few examples named by the Trump campaign, it still isn’t clear how some voters could vote from beyond the grave.
The Trump campaign named three dead people who voted or registered to vote in Pennsylvania: John H. Granahan of Allentown,, who died in 2019, is recorded as casting a vote in the presidential election; Judy Presto of Southpark, who died in 2013, is listed as registering to vote in September; and Elizabeth Bartman of Drexel Hill, who died in 2008, is shown as having registered in September and later voting.
State prosecutors charged Bruce Bartman, a registered Republican, with two counts of perjury and one count of unlawful voting. They said Bartman registered his dead mother, Elizabeth Bartman, and voted in her name for Trump.
Prosecutors said Bartman also registered another dead woman, Elizabeth Weihman, but he didn’t cast a vote in her name, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Bartman’s lawyer said he takes full responsibility and is cooperating with authorities, the Inquirer reported.
In a statement about the election in Georgia, the Trump campaign named four dead persons recorded as casting votes in November: Deborah Jean Christiansen of Roswell, who died in 2019; Edward Skwiot of Trenton, who died in 2015; James Blalock of Covington, who died in 2006; and Linda Kessler of Nicholson, who died in 2003.
Georgia election officials and law enforcement opened an investigation into the ballot cast in Skwiot’s name.
The Associated Press reported that Linda Kesler is dead, but she was not recorded as voting. However, a Lynda Kesler with a similar name, but different address and birthday, did vote, according to the AP.
In Georgia’s Newton County, the AP reported, officials issued a statement regarding Blalock, asserting that his widow regularly casts her ballot using the name Mrs. James E. Blalock Jr.
The Associated Press also reported that an absentee ballot wasn’t mailed to Christiansen’s Roswell home, but that a different woman named Deborah Jean Christiansen, born the same year, voted in Cobb County.
In other cases, similar names also are an issue. Trump supporters cited the name of a dead man in Michigan listed as voting, but later reports suggested that the actual voter was the man’s son with the same name and address.
Another claim that didn’t pan out came from a Philadelphia press conference held in November by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.
Giuliani said that boxing legend Joe Frazier, who died in 2011, was recorded as having voted in Pennsylvania in the presidential election.
“I know this city has a sad history of voter fraud. After all, Joe Frazier is still voting here; kind of hard since he died five years ago. But Joe continues to vote,” Giuliani said, getting the boxer’s year of death wrong.
Giuliani joked: “If I recall correctly, Joe was a Republican. So maybe I shouldn’t complain. But we should go see if Joe is voting Republican or Democrat, now from the grave.”
Whether Giuliani’s entire statement was in jest, USA Today fact-checked it and determined that Frazier was not recorded as having voted in the 2020 election.
One problem for the Trump campaign was simply comparing the names of recorded votes with public death records, said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation.
Von Spakovsky said research by the Public Interest Legal Foundation compared the names of those who voted with government data as well as commercially available information to produce a more precise count.
2. What Were ‘Dead Voting’ Patterns in Past Elections?
The total number of votes cast in the names of dead voters in the 2020 election likely won’t be known for some time.
In 2016, the last presidential election year, 7,890 registered voters who were dead were credited with voting across 41 states.
The number declined in 2018 to 6,178, according to a report earlier this year from the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity watchdog.
The group actually got data from 42 states, but one-—Vermont—had recorded none of its 104 dead registrants as having voted. Three states—Illinois, Maine, and Maryland—withheld the data. In the remaining five states, the report says, “insurmountable gaps in the poor quality of the state’s data impaired the research.”
“Nine states either offer limited data or none at all to the public,” foundation spokesman Logan Churchwell told The Daily Signal.
Churchwell said similar numbers for the 2020 election are difficult to determine at this point.
The report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation found 349,773 apparently dead people listed on voter registration rolls in the 41 states covered by its study during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles.
New York, Texas, Michigan, Florida, and California accounted for 51% of the total names, according to the foundation.
Michigan is one of the states where the results are being litigated in the aftermath of the 2020 election. The names of 34,225 dead people are on the voter registration rolls. Of those, 104 were recorded as voting in 2016, and 97 in 2018.
Rounding out the top 10 with at least 11,000 dead registered voters each are Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey, and Tennessee.
Pennsylvania, among the most contested states in the aftermath of the 2020 election, lists 16,685 registered voters who are dead, according to the foundation’s report. However, that number is now known to be more than 21,000, based on an amended lawsuit filed by the Public Interest Legal Foundation.
In 2018, the report shows 127 dead people on the voter rolls were recorded as voting in Pennsylvania. That’s 50 fewer than the 177 dead Pennsylvanians credited with voting in the 2016 election.
On a per capita basis, North Carolina leads the U.S. in dead registrants recorded as voting in 2016 and 2018, according to the foundation’s report. This year, Trump carried North Carolina, which was considered a battleground.
As for other states where the outcomes are being litigated after Election Day, Wisconsin ranks 16th with 6,805 dead registered voters in previous elections, according to the report. Of those, 163 were credited with voting in the 2018 midterms and 186 in the 2016 presidential election.
Georgia placed 20th in the report, with 4,243 dead registered voters in the previous elections. Of those, 12 were recorded as voting in 2018 and 17 in 2016.
The contested state of Nevada ranks at No. 22 with 3,258 dead registered voters in the previous two federal elections. Of those, four voted in 2018 and seven in 2016.
Arizona ranks 25th with 2,289 dead people on the voter rolls. Of those, 28 were credited with voting in 2018 and 23 in 2016.
The numbers are likely higher for 2020, von Sponvakovsky said.
“I would think it’s at the very least the same proportionally, and realistically, it’s higher because there was such a higher number of mail-in and absentee ballots used this year,” von Spakovsky told The Daily Signal. “It’s so much easier for a member of the family to cast a vote for a deceased relative.”
In a separate 2012 study, the Pew Center on the States found that about 24 million voter registrations were no longer valid or contained significant inaccuracies, while 1.8 million dead individuals were listed on voter rolls nationally.
A 2010 study by Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project asserts that, in a typical state, “1 in 40 counted votes in the 2008 general election cannot be matched to a registrant listed as having voted” and that “1 in 100 listed registrants is likely to be deceased.”
The 2010 study also concludes that “1 in 25 registration records is estimated to be deadwood, because of registrants who have not voted in a very long time, have moved elsewhere and re-registered, or are thought to be deceased.”
These votes can make a difference in an election, although it’s not likely, von Spakovsky said.
“It’s probably only if it’s a marginal victory,” von Spakovsky said. “Could it make a difference if the margin of victory is 10,000? Maybe. Could it make a difference if the margin of victory is 140,000? Probably not.”
3. What Are Laws on the Voting Dead?
Federal law and all state laws prohibit voting in the name of a dead person. However, what happens if someone dies after mailing in his or her vote before Election Day?
It depends on the state. Almost half the states don’t address the question at all, while the others are split.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states count votes that arrive before the voter’s death—even if the voter dies before Election Day. These states are Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Thirteen other states require a person to be alive on Election Day for his mailed ballot to be counted. These states are Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a “rumor control” statement after the 2020 election that didn’t deny dead voting, but explained that numerous safeguards are in place to prevent it from occurring. Trump fired the agency’s director, Christopher Krebs, after he called the 2020 election the most secure in history.
“Election officials regularly remove deceased individuals from voter registration rolls based on death records shared by state vital statistics agencies and the Social Security Administration,” said the cybersecurity agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, adding:
While there can be some lag time between a person’s death and their removal from the voter registration list, which can lead to some mail-in ballots being delivered to addresses of deceased individuals, death records provide a strong audit trail to identify any illegal attempts to cast ballots on behalf of deceased individuals. …
In some instances, living persons may return mail-in ballots or vote early in-person, and then die before Election Day. Some states permit such voters’ ballots to be counted, while others disallow such ballots and follow procedures to identify and reject them during processing.
Since absentee ballots and other mail-in voting is meant to serve those who are alive but can’t make it to their polling place, von Spakovsky said, dead votes shouldn’t count at any point.
“It doesn’t make sense to allow a dead person to have a say in an election,” he said.
4. What Does Trump Campaign Litigation Claim About Dead Voting?
The Trump campaign’s lawsuit in Georgia refers to the Public Interest Legal Foundation research finding that more than 4,200 dead people were on voter registration rolls.
“Each of those potentially deceased individuals presents an opportunity for confusion and even fraud,” the Trump team’s complaint says. “Anyone with access to a deceased registrant’s date of birth and address information could attempt to request a ballot in the name of the deceased.”
The complaint filed in Fulton County contends: “Someone deceased for 10 years should not have received three absentee ballots. Someone deceased for 10 years should not have received any absentee ballot. Someone deceased for 10 years should not have had any absentee ballot counted.”
“Another Affiant, Sandy Rumph, has stated that her father-in-law, who died on September 9, 2019, had his voter registration change from ‘deceased’ to ‘active’ 8 days after he passed away,” the complaint says.
The Trump campaign’s litigation in Nevada lists eyewitness accounts of what the campaign says are irregularities, including an incident in which a resident “received a ballot at her home addressed to her deceased mother.”
The complaint alleges that 1,506 votes were cast in the name of dead Nevada residents.
However, state Judge Todd Russell wrote that the plaintiff didn’t provide proof that any fraud would overcome Biden’s margin of victory in the state.
Contestants did not prove under any standard of proof that any illegal votes were cast and counted, or legal votes were not counted at all, for any other improper or illegal reason, nor in an amount equal to or greater than 33,596, or otherwise in an amount sufficient to raise reasonable doubt as to the outcome of the election.
In Michigan, the Trump campaign’s lawsuit says: “One Michigan voter stated that her deceased son has been recorded as voting twice since he passed away, most recently in the 2020 general election.”
State courts in Michigan also rejected the Trump team’s arguments.
In Pennsylvania, state Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer’s opinion dismissing the Trump team’s claims reads: “Appellant does not allege, and there is no evidence, that the [voters]who cast these votes were ineligible to vote, that votes were cast by or on the behalf of a deceased [voter], or that votes were cast by someone other than the [voter].”