We’ve all heard of elected officials dying while in office, or dying shortly after getting elected to office. But, what about if they get elected AFTER they’ve died? That can’t happen, right? Think again! Here are ten times dead people got elected to public office.
10. Oceanside, CA City Treasurer
Gary Ernst was re-elected as city treasurer of Oceanside, CA in 2016 despite dying of natural causes in September of that year. Councilman Jerry Kern had been urging constituents to cast their vote for the deceased treasurer instead of Ernst’s challenger, Nadine Scott, and promised to appoint a replacement for him.
“Did you know that my opponent for City Treasurer has sadly passed away yet remains on the ballot due to Election Code law? Make your vote count by voting for me,” Scott told her Facebook followers. She then went on to accuse Kern of swaying voters to re-elect Ernst so that Kern could choose a successor. In fact, Kern pretty much admitted to it on television. “Vote for him anyway, because that way we can get somebody that’s qualified there,” he said in an interview with ABC ten weeks after Ernst’s passing.
9. Pennsylvania State Senate Race
In 2008, voters in Monroe County, PA re-elected Republican James Rhoades to the U.S. Senate, although he succumbed to injuries he received in a car crash on October 17, 2008. According to an unofficial tally, Rhoades defeated Democrat Peter J. Symons 66,742 to 37,143. Independent Dennis Baylor received 1,988 votes.
“I wouldn’t know how you’d go about conceding. There’s a practical problem: This is a race that’s a sham to begin with, having to concede to a person who’s dead,” Baylor said in an article in the Pocono Record. A lot of this was orchestrated by people behind the scenes who [were] just using a tragic situation for their own gain,” he added.
8. Texas State Senate Race
Senator Mario Gallegos, who died in October 2012 from complications of liver disease, easily defeated Republican challenger R.W. Bray to win re-election to the U.S. Senate. Under state law, Gallegos’ name remained on the ballot because he died less than 74 days before the election.
Cynthia Gallegos, the senator’s youngest sister, worked at the polls all day and was asked by constituents why they should vote for Gallegos since he was deceased. “We want to keep the district Democratic,” she told them, according to the Houston Chronicle.
7. Hillsboro, MO Mayoral Election
“Dead mayor wins election in Hillsboro.” That was the headline for an article on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s website. Frank Roland, Jr. had been mayor of Hillsboro since 1995 and won re-election despite his untimely demise on March 9, 2015. According to the article, Roland had been seeking re-election and ran unopposed. Unofficial election results showed that Roland got seven more votes than write-in candidates.
Write-in candidate James Gowan served as interim mayor and was later chosen to fill that position permanently until he was defeated by Dennis Bradley in 2017.
6. Alaska Congressional Election
In 1972, Nick Begich was re-elected to Congress three weeks after a plane crash in which he was presumed dead. He won by 12 points.
Begich, along with his aide Russell Brown and then-Democratic House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, were en route to a re-election rally in Juneau when their twin-engine Cessna disappeared. According to a 2012 article in Seattle Weekly by freelance writer Jonathan Walczak, “the massive search that ensued turned up no leads, and the plane, along with the bodies… remains hidden somewhere in the wilderness.”
Begich’s replacement was Don Young–the man who lost to him in the election. Young won a special election that next March. He still serves in that position today.
5. Louisiana Congressional Election
Hale Boggs, as we just mentioned, was on his way to a re-election rally with Nick Begich when the plane he was traveling in went missing. What we didn’t mention is that Boggs was also up for election. According to Seattle Weekly, Boggs was thought to become the next Speaker of the House. Because of his popularity, and probably because he ran unopposed, he won re-election, even though he’d been missing and presumed dead for three weeks. His wife, Lindy Boggs, was chosen to replace him. She went on to serve eight more terms.
4. Hawaii Congressional Election
Representative Patsy Mink was re-elected to the House in 2002 even though she died weeks earlier from viral pneumonia brought on by chickenpox. Mink defeated Bob McDermott, the Republican challenger and right-wing state representative, by a wide margin. Her name still appeared on the November ballot because it was too late to remove it. She passed away a week after the primary election.
So, just how did a deceased woman win re-election? The New York Times explained it like this:
“Democrats are in meltdown. Because of a sour economy and a rash of scandals involving local politicians, voters are disgusted with the incumbent party and seem in a mood to try something, anything, different.”
3. South Dakota Primary Election
Incumbent Rep. Sean McPherson received the Republican party’s nomination in South Dakota’s primary election held earlier this year. McPherson died in late April after a bout with cancer.
McPherson filed for re-election on March 26, and his name remained on the ballot because it was too late to remove it. According to state law, candidates’ names can be removed from the ballot, but no later than two days after the filing deadline, which, in South Dakota, happens to be the last Tuesday in March at 5:00 p.m.
2. New York State Assembly
Incumbent Republican Bill Nojay was elected to the New York state Assembly in 2016, even though he committed suicide prior to the election. He defeated GOP primary challenger Rick Milne by about 1,000 votes.
What’s just as surprising is that Nojay was re-elected despite allegations of fraud. He was supposed to appear in court the day of his death for allegedly embezzling from a friend’s trust fund. Plus, he was also facing trial in Cambodia for swindling $1 million from a rice export investor. Yet GOP leaders were still urging people to vote for him. Apparently, their efforts were not in vain.
1. Tracy City, TN Mayoral Election
Although Carl Robin Geary Sr. died of a heart attack on March 10, 2010, voters still elected him as mayor of Tracy City. “I knew he was deceased. I know that sounds stupid, but we wanted someone other than her,” Chris Rogers, owner of the town’s Lunch Box restaurant, told the Times Free Press. “If he were to run again next week I’d vote for him again.”
The “her” Rogers was referring to was Geary’s opponent, incumbent Barbara Brock. Geary defeated Brock 268 votes to 85.
According to the Times Free Press, Geary’s widow, Susan, said she was not surprised by the election results. “The day he passed away, people were calling with condolences and saying, ‘We’re still voting for him,'” she said.
From a lack of good candidates to wanting to maintain the status quo, there are lots of reasons why someone dead could get elected to office. And, it just goes to show that nothing in life–or death, for that matter–is impossible. Thanks for reading!