The “cemetery vote” refers to a form of voter fraud, in which votes are cast in the names of registered voters who have, in fact, passed away.
The term is also sometimes used when a vote is improperly cast by someone who no longer lives in the electoral district.
In 2016, a CBS investigation found that there had been “multiple cases” of votes being cast by dead men and women in Denver, Colorado.
The votes were cast months, or years, after the actual voters passed away.
In one instance, CBS found that ballots had been cast in the name of a woman named Sara Sosa in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.
However, Sosa had died in October of 2009. Her husband, Miguel, died in 2008 but a vote was cast in his name in 2009.
Chicago has its own, storied history of voter fraud, and the Chicago Tribune ran a cheery editorial after CBS unearthed fraud in Colorado:
As Chicagoans, we have one thing to say: amateurs. The Denver investigation turned up only four confirmed cases of corpses actually casting ballots. And the whole scandal seems to be the work of a few hapless freelancers — presumably, someone getting hold of a ballot mailed to the home of the deceased and deciding not to waste it.
After all, the famous, cheeky order to “vote early and vote often” is closely linked to Chicago-style politics.
Origin of “Cemetery Vote”
Historians are not sure who, exactly, first uttered the phrase, but it’s always attributed to a Chicagoan. It’s thought that it was either the famous gangster, Al Capone; Richard Daley, mayor from 1955 to 1976; or William Hale Thompson, who was mayor from 1915-1923 and from 1931-1935
In mid-century Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley was rumored to regularly engineer voter fraud so that his Democratic allies kept on winning.
Many people said that Daley was also behind the 1960 victory of John F Kennedy; Daley supposedly “stole” the presidency for JFK by making sure that the Chicago vote went his way.
That account has been disputed, but it’s still a popular and widely-believed story.
More recent reporting, though, indicates that cemetery votes are still being used in Chicago. A 2016 investigation by CBS found that over the course of the previous decade, 199 dead people had “voted” a total of 229 times.
A Board of Elections spokesman downplayed the investigation, dismissing the votes as accidents or as irrelevant mistakes.
“This is not the bad old days,” Jim Allen told CBS. “There are just a few instances here where a father came in for a son, or a neighbor was given the wrong ballot application and signed it.” Allen argued that a number of the “fraudulent” votes were simple clerical errors.
The CBS investigation found that 60,000 voters had not been purged from the city’s voting rolls.
In several cases, relatives of people who had passed away complained that they had repeatedly notified officials of their family members’ deaths – only to find out later that their family members had “voted” several times after death.
Use of “Cemetery Vote” in a sentence
- During the heated election campaign, allegations of a “cemetery vote” surfaced, with opponents accusing each other of fraudulently casting ballots in the names of deceased individuals to inflate the vote count in their favor.
- The election commission initiated a thorough investigation into the claims of a cemetery vote after discovering that several votes had been cast using the names and information of citizens who had passed away years earlier.
- Critics argue that stricter voter ID laws and updated voter registration databases are essential to prevent cemetery votes and ensure the integrity of the electoral process, while others worry that these measures could disenfranchise legitimate voters.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.