Here’s what Bill Galvin said about the legal quirk allowing Mass. mail-in ballots cast by people who later died to be counted

"It's certainly not going to affect the outcome of the election."

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Boston, MA  10/5/20   Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin (cq) holds a media availability, in the Senate Reading Room, to discuss mail-in voting and an early voting period, during the continuing coronavirus pandemic.  (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin holds a media availability Monday in the Senate Reading Room, to discuss mail-in voting and an early voting period during the continuing coronavirus pandemic. –Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe

Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin says it’s “extremely rare” that the votes of residents who died after filling out their ballot are counted.

But under the state’s emergency law expanding early and mail-in voting this year due to the COVID-19, it is increasingly, if only marginally, possible.

“To be clear, these are people who are alive and competent when they voted, but they may have died unexpectedly after they voted,” Galvin told reporters during a press conference Monday.

His comments came after a Boston Globe report Sunday examining how a provision in the law that was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in July — and only applies to this year’s elections — includes a provision prohibiting election officials from rejecting an absentee or early ballot “solely because the voter became ineligible to vote by reason by death after casting the ballot.”

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As many as 11 other states have had similar statutes on the books, according to the Globe; however, Massachusetts and at least 16 other states explicitly prohibited the practice (many other states did not have laws on the books addressing such rare occurrences).

“In past times, if the local officials knew they were dead — had died —even though they had legally voted when they cast the ballot, they would have discarded the ballot, not counted it,” Galvin said Monday.

The new emergency law expanded the period of early in-person voting from 10 days to 14 days and allows anyone to request an absentee ballot (otherwise known as voting by mail).

Given the volume of people expected to use those options, state Sen. Barry Feingold, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws told the Globe that lawmakers were trying to create more consistency with the way voters’ ballots were treated. Even in previous years, as Galvin noted, if someone died after voting in person on Election Day, their vote would still be counted. The same would be true for absentee ballots, if local election officials were unaware the voter has since died.

“Again, these people were alive and eligible to vote,” Galvin said. “I mean, you could take it this way, if somebody voted at eight o’clock in the morning, in person, and then two hours later died, their ballot being in the box, it would have been counted.”

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Galvin said Monday that he expects the first round of requested absentee ballots to be sent to voters by the end of this week. He also encouraged voters who haven’t already requested a ballot to do so by Oct. 20, though the official deadline is Oct. 28, in order to provide enough time for it to be mailed to the voter before the Nov. 3 election.

While President Donald Trump has repeatedly and misleadingly argued that mail-in voting will result in significant fraud, as well as ballots being deliberately sent to dead people (also untrue), Galvin doesn’t see the change in Massachusetts state law as particularly controversial. Election experts on both sides of the political aisle have found the rate of voter fraud to be minuscule.

Galvin did acknowledge that the state has seen a number of absentee ballots rejected, including from a couple in their 80s who had died in April, as the Globe reported. He noted that many elderly voters are on permanent absentee ballot lists. Even though it’s been “a record year for deaths because of COVID,” Galvin said he didn’t expect the rule change to ultimately affect a “significant number” of ballots.

“It’s certainly not going to affect the outcome of the election,” he said. “And if it were to, I speculate here, but if it were to obviously there probably be some follow-up litigation.”

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