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What is Ghost Voting?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ghost voting is a practice in which a member of a legislative assembly casts a vote without being present in the voting chamber. While it might seem impossible to vote without being present, there are in fact several ways in which ghost voting can occur, and the practice is actually quite widespread. In some cases, it is such common practice that legislative reformers have suggested specifically banning the practice to put a stop to it, or legalizing it so that it can be regulated.

In a classic example of ghost voting, a legislator might agree to push the voting button of another legislator when an important vote comes before the chamber. The absent legislator would therefore record a vote on the issue while being able to attend to other matters. Members of the same party often agree to perform ghost votes for each other, and in some cases, members of opposing parties have even cast votes which run contrary to the beliefs of the absent legislator.

Legislators can also sometimes rig their voting buttons to be triggered remotely, allowing them to activate the buttons when they see that a call for a vote has come up. This allows legislators to go home when debate stretches into the small hours of the morning, or to attend to constituent issues in the office while still voting in the legislature.

Some people argue that if ghost voting were legalized, it could be regulated, and that there are some advantages to it. For example, a legislator could respond to an emergency at home while still serving constituents in the legislative chamber. The codification of this type of voting would also mean that legislators would have no excuse for missing a vote, thereby eliminating a common political dodge in which a politician simply fails to show for a controversial vote.

The term “ghost voting” is also used in reference to voter fraud. In this case, it involves adding a voter who does not exist to the voting rolls with the goal of altering the outcome of an election. Ghost voters are often dead, double-registered, or otherwise ineligible to vote. Many nations have steps in place to prevent this practice, using various techniques to vet voter rolls prior to the election to make sure that all of the listed voters are valid, but it can be difficult.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Charlie89 — On Sep 24, 2011

@alFredo - I agree that you must be ale to verify you the ghost vote is for. Which is why I think ghost voting should only be done in valid dire situations, not just because a legislature didn't want too or had other business matters to attend to. There should have to be proof of this if something dire happens frequently.

Ghost voting should only be aloud a pre-determined amount of times per year. Just like with any other job, there should be a limit to everything.

We should remember that legislatures are human, so they do have important home issues and sicknesses that arise. But also, they should not be above the law either.

If a legislature can not find the "time" to make it to many or any voting sessions, they should find another job, or their superiors should fire them, just like any other person in any job who decides they are "too good" or "too busy" to be "bothered" with things that are a part of their job.

By aLFredo — On Sep 24, 2011

Unfortunately, most people have emergencies at home, and most people feel ill occasionally. I think in instances that can not be helped, like emergencies and sicknesses, ghost voting should be allowed.

Ghost voting should be more safe and have more rules and regulations to it though. I don't think a friend should be able to ghost vote for you, and especially not someone of an opposite democratic party who casts your ghost vote for whatever they and their party wants.

Ghost voting should only be done by the particular legislature themselves, not by anyone else. There has got to be a way that each person can verify that this is their vote, not anyone else's.

By Mykol — On Sep 24, 2011

On one hand I see ghost voting as similar to voting early with an absentee ballot. On the other hand, it sounds like some of the practices aren't monitored very closely and fraud can happen too easily.

It never ceases to amaze me what lengths some people will go to in order to win at something.

After reading this article it seems like if this practice is allowed, there should be more regulations and monitoring than there has been in the past.

I wonder how many things have been passed by the vote of just one ghost voter?

By JaneAir — On Sep 23, 2011

@sunnySky - I'm torn on this issue. On the one hand, regulating ghost voting sounds necessary. On the other hand, senators and the like are paid to do this job. They should show up when it's time to vote!

I think maybe ghost voting should only be used in certain circumstances. If the legislator absolutely can't make it because they are sick or something, then I think ghost voting would be okay. But if they are simply too "busy" I don't think they should be allowed to cast their vote from somewhere else.

By sunnySkys — On Sep 22, 2011

I've never heard of this practice before, but I see why it happens. I'm in favor of making it legal and regulating it.

I think there should be harsh penalties for legislators who cast ghost votes for other legislators without their permission. This seems contrary to our whole system of government and is just plain dishonest!

By candyquilt — On Sep 22, 2011

I'm reading about ghost voting for class and it's shocking how common it is in non-democracies and countries where there has been conflict.

The ruling parties in these countries usually do a lot of ghost voting the day of elections and even use violence when people realize what's going on. That's why international organizations like the United Nations tries to oversee elections in countries where there is conflict. If they find voters who are not alive or who do not exist, they can request another election.

But if there is no third-party overseeing the elections, parties can get away with ghost voting. Many elections across the world are probably won this way.

It's so sad because elections are one of the main requirements of a democracy. Holding elections is useless if there is going to be ghost voting and people don't really get to choose who governs them, isn't it?

By serenesurface — On Sep 21, 2011

@burcinc-- I don't agree with you. Even if they are very busy, I think the most important responsibility of a legislator is to vote on issues and laws to represent their constituency. If they cannot find the time to attend voting sessions, then I am not sure that they should be legislators in the first place.

As much as I would like legislators' jobs to be easier, we shouldn't forget that they are elected representatives that have the duty to represent the people who voted for them. They can only do that if they vote and influence laws in the way that their constituents want them to. How can we say that ghost voting is okay?

I don't believe that there is a safer method to vote than to actually be there in person and cast the vote physically.

By burcinc — On Sep 21, 2011

I've worked on Capitol Hill before and have witnessed first hand how busy legislators can be. It's completely understandable for them to have to be in another place while there is voting in legislature, especially if voting happens often.

I think it's acceptable for legislators to vote outside of the chamber if the technology allows them to submit the vote remotely. But I don't think it's acceptable for a missing legislator to have someone else cast their vote for them. I agree that ghost voting should be legalized in legislature but there should be a safe and reliable method for legislators to vote outside of their chambers. There is no other way to confirm that the vote is being cast as the legislator wants it to be.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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