Voting ballot sent to woman who died 15 years ago

Voting ballot sent to woman who died 15 years ago »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A Bakersfield family was stunned when they got a mail-in ballot. It's in time for the November election, but the ballot is for a relative who died about 15 years ago.

The family said they're shocked this can happen, and they are worried situations like this could lead to election fraud.

April Cantley said she got the ballot a week ago addressed to Katherine Vest. That's her husband's aunt, and the family said Vest died in 1998. They ended up with the ballot by mistake, it was addressed to the house next to hers.

"This is a little bizarre to all of a sudden have this show up," Cantley told Eyewitness News on Thursday. "I’ve never received any mail for her before."

Cantley said the house next door is a home her husband’s family had for a number of years, and Vest lived there for a while.

But, that was a long time ago.

Another family now has that house, but the rural postal carrier somehow put the ballot in Cantley's mailbox. At least that allowed them to recognize the name of their deceased relative, and start asking questions.

"It just really creates an opportunity for voter fraud," Cantley said. "I mean, not everyone's honest."

Craig Huffer is Vest's nephew, and he was floored when his relatives told him about the ballot for Vest. "All my bells went off instantly," Huffer said. For him, integrity's the most important thing about an election.

How could someone who's dead get a mail ballot?

"It happens," Kern County Elections chief Karen Rhea said. "For whatever reason, we don't receive notification and we can't remove them from the rolls. It's illegal to remove them from the (voter) rolls without official notification."

Rhea said the election department gets monthly updates on deaths in Kern County, but not if a death occurs out of the area. The family said Vest died in Mexico.

Rhea said a voter's name can be removed from the rolls, if they get signed notification from a family member and their office can then verify that.

A voter's name is removed if they commit a felony, or if a voter asks for their name to be taken off the rolls.

Cantley thought a name would be removed, if they didn't vote in a certain number of election cycles.

"That law did exist prior to 2002," Rhea explained. But, in that year the "Help America Vote Act" went on the books. "At that time it changed the law. We can no longer remove someone for failure to vote."

Cantley thinks that should be changed. "New legislation could be proposed to keep this from happening again," she said.

Rhea said vote-by-mail ballots can be requested, and some voters have asked to be in that category permanently. Some smaller precincts are also "mail only" areas. Rhea added that right now, 53 percent of Kern County's voters do cast ballots by mail.

Still, Katherine Vest's family is disturbed by the mistaken mail-in ballot they ended up with.

"I just simply can't believe it, and I don't remember her ever speaking of politics in any manner," Craig Huffer said. "I'm not sure she ever registered to vote. Maybe she did."

He'd like to see more safeguards on registering to vote.

Rhea said election materials can not be forwarded, so if residents get something sent to their address by mistake they should return it to the post office.

"We can get the information and we can follow up with a form for removal," Rhea said. She adds the public can help catch mistakes that happen. "If people recognize errors, or see anything -- share that information with us, and help us do a good job."