Elections are usually the exclusive province of living people. In simpler terms, you have to be alive to run. Also, certain requirements need to be met to qualify one to run for office, such as a minimum age or living in the area one wishes to govern.
Sometimes, however, none of that has stopped dead people from defeating their living contenders, often times by significant margins, to win seats they will never occupy. In these rare instances, voters were usually aware that the candidate they were voting for was dead, but they still went out to vote for them. And in all instances recorded in history, the deceased winners died before their elections, but their names remained on the ballots for legal reasons.
Here are just five of them.
In 2016, a deceased Gary Ernst was elected treasurer of Oceanside, California. Voters and city council members were aware that Ernst was dead but went on to vote for him because they did not want his rival, Nadine Scott, to clinch the post. One councilman, Jerry Kern, famously told voters to vote for the deceased Ernst so that Kern could select someone else to fill the position.
After Ernst’s death, Nadine Scott informed prospective voters that Ernst was dead and requested that they vote for her instead since she was the only candidate left. She lost the election after garnering 15,500 votes. Ernst got 17,659. Despite losing the election, Scott requested that the city council make her treasurer. The city council refused and appointed Rafe Edward Trickey Jr. to the post.
In 2014, Roger Freeman was campaigning for a seat in the Washington state legislature when he died with just six days left before the election. He had served a first term and was ready to serve a second when he died of colon cancer on October 29, 2014. He still went on to win the election, though.
After Freeman’s victory, it was determined that the councils of King and Pierce counties, which Freeman was supposed to represent in the state legislature, needed to elect one of the three nominees presented to them by the Democratic Party to replace Freeman. The Democrats presented the three nominees, but the councils of both counties were undecided.
They were unsure whether they were supposed to hold a joint voting session or vote separately to select Freeman’s replacement. The councils remained undecided until the 60 days required by law elapsed. This automatically gave Governor Jay Inslee the power to select one of the nominees as state legislator. Inslee appointed Carol Gregory—who happened to be the same person the Democratic Party wanted to replace Freeman.
Bill Nojay was a member of the New York State Assembly and was running for reelection when he committed suicide in 2016. This changed nothing, as he still went on to win the Republican primary for his district. The exact motivation for Nojay’s suicide was unclear, but he was facing fraud charges in Cambodia and was under FBI investigation at that time. He was reportedly supposed to turn himself in to the FBI due to federal fraud charges on the day he shot himself.
On that fateful day, he drove to his family’s cemetery plot in Rochester and shot himself as a police officer arrived. In faraway Cambodia, he was due to stand trial after he was implicated alongside two unnamed men for defrauding an investor of $1 million in a rice deal. The Republican Party remained undaunted by Nojay’s death and asked voters to vote for him so that they would be able to select a replacement to run against the Democratic candidate.
In November 2010, Democrat Jenny Oropeza defeated Republican John Stammreich to win a seat in the California state senate. There was a small problem, though. Oropeza had died of cancer a few weeks before the election. Her name could not be replaced on the ballot because her death was too close to the elections, so the Democrats just went on with her.
After Oropeza’s death but before the elections, the Democratic Party sent mailers to prospective voters, informing them that, “Senator Jenny Oropeza’s illness has been a tragedy. Her strength through her struggle inspired us all.” They never directly stated that she was deceased.
The Republicans criticized the mailer and accused the Democrats of being insincere with their campaign. They said the Democrats were only trying to make the state call for a special election. Nevertheless, the deceased Oropeza comfortably defeated Stammreich. She got 58 percent of the votes, while Stammereich got 36 percent.
In 2002, Hawaiian Patsy Mink won an election to retain her seat in the US House of Representatives. Unfortunately, she had died of pneumonia five weeks before the election. Had she been alive, this win would have made it the 14th time she would have been representing Hawaii in the House of Representatives.
A Democrat, Mink had grabbed 56 percent of the votes to defeat her Republican contender. The Democratic Party could not swap her for another candidate because it went against election laws. Had she died two days earlier, they would have been legally permitted to make a last-minute replacement. A special vote was called to select a successor to complete Mink’s current term, while a new election was scheduled for January to determine who would serve her new term.