California State Senator Jenny Oropeza easily won re-election yesterday – despite having passed away back on October 20th from complications caused by a blood clot. Although the illness left her largely absent from the campaign trail, Oropeza still managed to claim victory by a 58%-36% margin.
Oropeza’s story is rare, but certainly not unprecedented in the history of American elections. Here are a few recent examples of people who refused to let death stand in the way of electoral victory:
1. Missouri Senator Mel Carnahan
Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan famously won election to the Senate in Missouri in 2000 – 38 days after passing away in a plane crash that also claimed the lives of his son and a campaign advisor. Carnahan beat incumbent Senator John Ashcroft - who would soon move on to serve as U.S. Attorney General for President George W. Bush. Carnahan’s wife filled his spot in the Senate until a 2002 special election.
2. Tracy City Mayor Carl Geary
Earlier this year, voters in the small town of Tracy City, Tennessee, handed Carl Geary an overwhelming 285-85 victory in the city’s mayoral race – ousting incumbent Barbara Brock in the process. Geary was unable to accept, of course, because he’d passed away of a heart attack a month before the election.
To some voters, Geary's victory seemed to be a tribute of sorts; to others, it was a lesser-of-two-evils decision. In a Telegraph story on the vote, Geary’s wife Susan is quoted as saying “The day he passed away, people were calling with condolences and saying, 'We're still voting for him.'”
“I knew he was deceased," said another voter. "I know that sounds stupid, but we wanted someone other than [Brock].” Interestingly, Brock had been appointed mayor less than two years earlier, when the sitting mayor died of a heart attack.
3. Winfield Mayor Harry Stonebraker
Missouri voters were at it again in 2009 when the town of Winfield’s recently deceased incumbent mayor Harry Stonebraker won a 4th term with a staggering 90% of the vote. According to the NY Daily News, Stonebraker’s death from a heart attack only seemed to bolster the popularity he’d garnered, in part, by helping citizens recover from a flood that had ravaged the town the year before.
For his part, Stonebraker’s opponent, Bernie Panther, was completely unable to convince people that he was a better option than their dearly-departed hero – and received only 23 total votes as a result.
4. U.S. Representative Patsy Mink
Patsy Mink was a trailblazing politician who served the state of Hawaii for 12 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, in 1964 Mink became “the first woman of color elected to the national legislature and the first Asian-American congresswoman.” After a stint serving in the President Carter’s administration and as a member of the Honolulu City Council, Mink returned to the U.S House of Representatives in 1990 – serving until she died of pneumonia weeks before election day in 2002. A few weeks after receiving a state funeral, Mink was honored once again when the voters of Hawaii re-elected her to Congress – a seat that was re-assigned a few months later after a special election.