A terminally ill woman mailed in her ballot. Now, after her death, her vote won’t be counted.

What happens to my vote if I mail it in, then die before Election Day?

Stock image/Photo by Alex Wong (Getty Images)

It seems as if the messaging is everywhere you turn: Get out and vote.

We’ve heard of people out in droves who voted early or sent a mail-in ballot. Lines at early-voting precincts have had some crowds waiting hours -- but to cast a ballot, many find the time well-spent.

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Amber Pflughoeft, 20, of Wisconsin, had been fighting bone cancer for a decade, and because of that, she spent the last midterm election in the hospital following a bone marrow transplant, according to a CNN report. Pflughoeft was fascinated with politics and determined to vote in the 2020 General Election, so she mailed in her ballot early. However, just days after she sent it off, her health took a turn for the worse.

Pflughoeft had to return to the hospital, then died in late September.

“She was so excited about (voting),” Amber’s mom, Tiffany Pflughoeft, told CNN last week. “She died on a Monday, but on Saturday, when she could still talk, she was telling all the nurses and doctors, ‘I voted.’”

Amber’s family learned under Wisconsin election law, her vote will now be thrown out.

“We never realized it wouldn’t count,” Tiffany Pflughoeft said.

It’s a scenario that’s not pleasant to think about, but it’s a reality that all the states have to deal with when it comes to the election: What happens when a person who sends in a ballot early subsequently dies before Election Day arrives? Does that vote still count?

As for the answer, it all depends on which state you live in.

There are 17 states that prohibit counting ballots submitted by someone who dies before an election, while 10 allow it, according to the Associated Press.

All the other states have various stipulations as to whether they will allow the ballot of a deceased person to count, such as when the person died and when the death is learned.

The issue can be tricky for states, because it’s nearly impossible to verify whether every person who sends in a ballot early is still alive on Election Day, and there might not be enough time for paperwork to be received and death records to be updated if someone does die after sending in a vote.

Time will tell if there is any impact on this year’s election, given voter turnout and the fact that the number of people sending in ballots via mail before Election Day is expected to increase significantly.

However, if past elections are any indication, votes from people who pass away before Election Day generally don’t have an impact on the results, according USA Today.

Citing multiple studies, the article said there was little to no evidence of voter fraud or elections being significantly impacted by dead voters.

About the Authors:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

Dawn Jorgenson, Graham Media Group Branded Content Managing Editor, began working with the group in April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media.