Dead Men Don’t Vote: Dearly Departed Ousted from the Rolls

34829318 - hand of a person casting a ballot at a polling station during voting.

It is, indeed, getting to be more difficult for deceased voters to cast their ballots in Texas.

There is a 4-way system of redundancy in place to prevent voting from beyond the grave.

First comes the report sourced from death certificates.  Every month the local registrar of deaths prepares an abstract of each death certificate issued during that month for deceased Texas residents who were at least 18 years old.   The abstract is filed with the “voter registrar” in the county where the decedent resided at the time of his or her death.  A copy is filed with the secretary of state.

Next comes the probate clerk report.   The clerk of each court, monthly, with probate jurisdiction prepares an abstract for each application for probate of a will, administration of a decedent’s estate, determination of heirship, and affidavit filed under the Estates Code.  This is filed with the voter registrar and secretary of state.

Then the Bureau of Vital Statistics weighs in.

Once each week, the Bureau furnishes information about the deceased residents of Texas to the secretary of state.  Periodically, the secretary of state furnishes that information to the appropriate voter registrars, who then use it to identify deceased registered voters in their respective counties.

Finally, the secretary of state reaches out every 3 months to the United States Social Security Administration.  The SSA is the keeper of the Death Master File, which currently contains over 94 million records.

However, we are not yet finished.

Once a quarter the secretary of state compares all of the information it has received to the statewide computerized voter registration list.  If it determines that a voter on that list is deceased, then it sends notice of the determination to the voter registrar of the counties it thinks are appropriate.

Sometimes the information received by the secretary of state does not exactly match the voter’s information on the registration list.  In that case, the secretary of state determines if the match is strong or weak.  A strong match means the state considers the voter dead.  If it is a weak match, then the secretary of state notifies the voter’s last county of residence.  It is up to the county to further investigate whether the voter is, in fact, dead.

This all filters down to the registrar, who has the final word.

The registrar is required to cancel a voter’s registration if it receives information through the system that the voter is dead, knows personally that the voter is dead, or receives a sworn statement from a person within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity (think parent, grandparent, child, grandchild) that the voter is dead.

If this seems to you like overkill, then you aren’t from around these parts.  Any true Texan knows about the rumors that surrounded Lyndon Johnson’s 1948 primary victory, where 202 Mexican–American voters, some of them deceased, supposedly lined up in alphabetical order to cast their ballots.

As a result, Texas does not give the dead a vote. Usually.

Virginia, a 1982 SMU law school graduate, has advised clients for over 35 years.  For more information, visit hammerle.com, and for newsletter sign-up, email legaltalktexas@hammerle.com.  This column does not constitute legal advice.