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When I die, I want to move to St. Louis. This was not an easy decision — especially since the sum total of all my time in St. Louis consists of a Cardinals-Astros game in 1988, during which the temperature and the humidity both exceeded my body temperature. But it appears that St. Louis provides better post-mortem benefits to its citizens than other cities, so I’m thinking that’s the place for me. Most important to me is St. Louis’ practice of extending the voting franchise beyond the grave. According to the Los Angeles Times: “At least three dead aldermen registered to vote in Tuesday’s mayoral primary. So did one alderman’s deceased mother. “And a dead man was listed as the chief plaintiff in a lawsuit filed on Election Day in November. He was having trouble voting, the suit said, due to long lines at his polling station. So he petitioned a judge — successfully — to keep city ballot boxes open late.” I think that’s tremendously helpful information for someone trying to pick a place to spend the hereafter. The prospect of being interred somewhere that will allow me to continue not only voting, but perhaps practicing on behalf of my fellow dead people, appeals to me. I don’t want to practice a lot, but it would be nice to have an occasional petition granted, just for old time’s sake. And it would be especially nice to be able to dabble in something as important as voting rights law. You see, my family has a long history of working for voting rights in Missouri, and it would be pleasant to continue that tradition. My grandmother worked for the Democratic Party in Kansas City when Tom Pendergast ran it like it was his personal cookie jar. Every election day, Grandma would gather up my father and my two uncles — none of whom was old enough to go to a prom, much less vote in an election — and take them from polling place to polling place so they could cast votes on behalf of dead Democrats. (Grandma was confident she knew how these people would have voted had they not been encumbered by several feet of earth. So it wasn’t so much electoral fraud as just assisting the electorally handicapped.) One of my family’s favorite stories has to do with the day Grandma’s picture showed up on the front page of the Kansas City Star. The caption read something like, “Grace Bedsworth stands in line to be first to vote at her polling place before taking her sons to school.” It was a very nice picture of Grandma and you could make out my dad in the background. Only problem was, it wasn’t her polling place. It was just one of the two dozen she and her intrepid three-boy band of electoral facilitators for the dearly departed would hit that day. For weeks, the family lived in fear of having someone look at that picture and say, “Hey, what in hell is Grace Bedsworth doing voting way out by Swope Park?” I’m not saying Harry Truman would not have made it to the Senate without Grandma, but I’m pretty sure the Bedsworths cast more votes for him than any town with a population under 30,000. My father is 82 now and refuses to vote. He says he used up his franchise before he was 15. Says it wouldn’t be fair for him to cast any more votes than he already has. So I’m not surprised to hear St. Louis has such an enlightened policy about extending voting rights to dead people. St. Louis and Kansas City have one of those confused familial relationships that are hard to describe without spending way too much time discussing Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Suffice it to say, Dostoevsky would have understood these people, but nobody else does. All you really gotta know is if Kansas City has dead people voting, then there’s no way St. Louis is going to be without it. Besides, as Grandma always said, it just wouldn’t make sense to deny fine, upstanding citizens the right to vote just because they don’t happen to be capable of actually upstanding on the day of the election. How arbitrary would that be? So I guess I’m not too surprised to learn that dead people have the franchise in Missouri, but I must admit I did not previously understand that corpses were allowed access to the state’s courts. At the risk of being accused of impermissible group bias, I have to say this seems a little extreme to me. Turns out St. Louis was one of the cities we heard about last November where there were inexplicable long lines at the polls, and judges were being asked to order polling places to stay open late. And who was asking them to do this? Dead people. According to the Times, “The lawsuit that won extended voting hours [in St. Louis] was filed on behalf of a Robert Odom. It indicated that he ‘has not been able to vote and fears he will not be able to vote’ because of crowding at his polling place. It later emerged that Odom had died a year earlier.” Hear that? Not only do dead people vote, but they turn out in such huge numbers that they clog up the system. St. Louis on Election Day must look like the closing scenes of “Night of the Living Dead.” The phone number of the California secretary of state’s office is (916) 653-6814. You will probably want to call Bill Jones and thank him personally for all he’s done to keep this from happening in California. Actually, I find that a little distressing. You would think people who have been dead for a year would be occupied with weightier thoughts than whether their polling place would be crowded, wouldn’t you? This indicates to me that heaven may not be all it’s cracked up to be. All the more reason to think seriously about your post-mortem domicile. Now, if you’re like me (Don’t panic: “If you’re like me” is a figure of speech, not a request for admissions) the question that comes to mind is, just how did the late Mr. Odom get emergency relief in a St. Louis court? How did he make a record? I mean, when I was in a trial court, I required at least an affidavit before I’d issue a T.R.O. Sometimes I took live testimony. For obvious reasons, this latter option was not available in Mr. Odom’s case (at least not without giving a whole new meaning to the phrase, “dead man walking”). So I can only surmise Missouri law allows declarations under penalty of perjury from dead people. Which makes sense to me. Who has better reason to fear the consequences of violation of an oath than a dead person? I mean, my theology certainly admits of the possibility of someone having his station in the afterlife diminished if God finds out he lied under oath. I figure God don’t need no stinking extradition treaty. In fact, I doubt that an omniscient God even affords you a hearing for this sort of thing. So I can understand an argument in favor of dead people’s affidavits. (And while I’m at it, I should indicate there is some precedent for this sort of thing here in Orange County. My friend Cliff Roberts once had a plaintiff die shortly after filing a complaint on his behalf. Cliff tried to dismiss the complaint, but his motion was rejected by the court clerk’s office via a form letter which had a box checked that read, “Affidavit required.” So Cliff drew up a document — I have a file-stamped copy before me — that said, “My name is Joe Shlabotnick. I am dead.” He attached this to his motion to dismiss, resubmitted it and got his dismissal without further inquiry.) But the Times indicates maybe I’m reading a little too much eschatology into this whole thing. Their article suggests there may be less Teilhard de Chardin at issue here and more Richard J. Daley. It says, “The lawyer who filed the suit explained the mix-up by saying he had intended the plaintiff to be Robert ‘Mark’ Odom, an aide to a Democratic candidate for Congress. But that Odom had voted, without a wait, by the time the suit was filed.” Well, I’m sorry, but that’s just not my idea of an “explanation.” Essentially, this guy’s “explanation” was, “Hey, you know how it is. We already had this lawsuit all written, and it had lots of ‘wherevers’ and ‘therebys’ and even some ‘heretofores’ in it, and it just looked so purty, that when it turned out our own Mr. Odom had no problem voting, we just didn’t have the heart to toss all them fancy papers with all that lawyerly outrage into the trash. And we wuz nearly all outta white-out. So we just used a dead Odom. There’s plenty o’ them dead folks discouraged by the long lines.” (Which is surprising, really. You’d think people who do — literally — have an eternity, would be more patient than the rest of us.) Either the Times is guilty of some pretty shoddy journalism — which I find highly unlikely because I keep a pretty close eye on them and they almost always get the hockey scores right — or some lawyer in Missouri actually “explained” how he filed a suit on behalf of a dead person by saying that the plaintiff turned out not to have had his rights violated, and the only available person with the same name happened to be dead. And this caused not the batting of an eyelash in St. Louis. No immediate suspension, no call for disbarment, no investigation into how he got a judge to sign this thing, not even so much as, “You’re still using white-out?” Nothing. What’s that? You say your plaintiff has no cause of action, and you’ve already drawn up the complaint? No problem. Use a dead plaintiff. The cemeteries are full of ‘em, and Lord knows, they got nothin’ but time. They’ll be happy to come to court. This apparently meets the standard of practice in Missouri. And the general public is way too concerned with the rehabilitation of Mark McGwire’s knee to get too caught up in falsified affidavits. Near as I can determine, their attitude is, “Hey, we got all these dead people voting, we gotta make some accommodation to the physical problems that involves. We’ll just leave the polls open longer. Hell, the ADA probably requires that.” So look for the polls to be open late in Missouri. But don’t look too hard: You’re liable to see my grandmother there with a handful of death certificates. William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected]

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