Did the dead vote? Not the way you think they did.

The photo above is of protesters from sometime between 1909 and 1923. It’s from the National Archives: https://lccn.loc.gov/2016820317.

I keep seeing these claims, “dead people voted.” First of all, no, they didn’t. Not the way you’re thinking they did, anyway. In states where your voter registration is tied to your state ID or driver’s license–not sure if that’s true everywhere but it is definitely true in Wisconsin–death certificates are data that is shared with the DMV, and the DMV shares it with the election commission.

Did you really think the government doesn’t keep track of people who die?

Workers protesting in 1909. From the National Archives: https://lccn.loc.gov/2016820319

No, the dead are not voting. At least, not the way you think they are.

In another sense, yes, the dead do vote. Because the dead are with us and in us. As St. Teresa of Ávila said of Jesus,

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on Earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

-St. Teresa of Ávila

Well said, but it’s not just true of Jesus. It’s true of all the dead. YOU are their advocates.

That means YOU are how George Floyd votes. You are how Breonna Taylor votes. You are how Walter Wallace votes. You are how Ahmaud Arbury votes. You are how Elijah McClain votes. You are how Sandra Bland votes. You are how Tamir Rice (who wasn’t even old enough to vote) votes. You are how Eric Garner votes. You are how Trayvon Martin (who also wasn’t quite old enough to vote) votes.

You are how Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum vote.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg at her confirmation hearing in 1993. Photo by R. Michael Jenkins, published in Congressional Quarterly, from the National Archives: https://lccn.loc.gov/2019630722

You are also how Ruth Bader Ginsburg votes.

You are how John Lewis votes.

You are how John McCain votes.

You are how Larry Kramer votes.

You are how Little Richard votes.

You are how Ellis Marsalis votes.

You are how Joseph Lowery votes.

You are how Helen Reddy votes.

You are how McCoy Tyner votes.

The Vietnam War Memorial, photo from the National Park Service. I tried to visit this memorial with my grandparents in around 1988 but could not get close to it–my grandmother nearly collapsed at the very sight of it, and my grandfather and I had to help her walk away. Both her sons came home safe and sound from Vietnam, but the worry was still with her.

You are how Katherine Johnson votes.

You are how Ja’net Dubois votes.

You are how Penny Marshall votes.

You are how Eugene Kane votes.

You’re also how Martin Luther King votes.

You’re how Rosa Parks votes.

You’re how César Chávez votes.

You’re how Shirley Chisholm votes.

Fannie Lou Hamer at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Photo from the National Archives, https://www.loc.gov/item/2003688126/.

You’re how Fannie Lou Hamer votes.

You’re how Ella Baker votes.

You’re how Nannie Helen Burroughs votes.

You’re how Robert Kennedy votes.

You’re how John F. Kennedy votes.

You’re how W.E.B. DuBois votes.

You’re how Eleanor Roosevelt votes.

You’re how Harriet Tubman votes.

You’re how Lucy Stone votes.

You’re how Sojourner Truth votes.

You are how all the dead at Arlington and every other national cemetery vote.

Suffragists protesting in October 1916, from the National Archives:
https://www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000288/

You are how all the dead in unmarked and unhonored, forgotten graves vote.

You are how the countless dead I haven’t mentioned or thought to mention vote.

For that matter you are how St. Teresa of Ávila votes.

You are how Jesus votes.

You are how the Buddha votes.

You are how your ancestors vote.

You are how your heroes vote.

You are how the divine in everyone votes.

Your beloved dead in your family and your community and your tribe certainly do vote and they did vote–but they voted with YOUR hands, when YOU filled out YOUR ballot. When YOU voted, if you voted, that is how, and when, the dead voted.

Did the dead vote in 2020? I certainly hope they did.

A note on photos: I went to the National Archives and the National Park Service to find these because they’re in the public domain. I found what I could find. I really feel that the photos of the recently departed belong to their families; thus, I did not include their photos here. But you can find some of them, and many others who I did not list, at the Say Their Names site.

The large gray stone tomb of Dr. and Mrs King stands on a circular platform surrounded by a shallow pool of water.
Photo by Tami Heilemann, U.S. Department of the Interior. From https://www.doi.gov/blog/7-things-know-about-martin-luther-king-jr-national-historical-park.

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