A modest proposal: let's keep track of who dies

The United States has gotten fairly adept at keeping track of people who are born here over the years. There are birth certificates, the issuance of Social Security numbers, announcements in newspapers and all manner of other proclamations when a new life enters the world. But when it comes to the other end of the lifespan scale we’ve mostly relied on the honor system when folks shuffle off this mortal coil. Once you’re dead, the government sort of counts on you remaining dead, and your friends and relatives are pretty good about acknowledging this unless you happen to live in one of those unfortunate zombie apocalypse areas.

Why should we care? Because the dead get up to all manner of shenanigans these days and it has people concerned. One of the latest is the outcry over the election being rigged, and a part of that is the unpleasant habit some of the deceased have acquired when it comes to voting. We’ve seen it in large numbers in the Los Angeles area, in Colorado, in Virginia and beyond.

But it’s not just voting. The dead are out there participating in other things as well. We see too many reports of fraud where Social Security checks are cashed by relatives of the dead, sometimes for decades. When children die in infancy, identity thieves wind up resurrecting them years later for any number of purposes. The fact is that when people die, their identity becomes available for nefarious purposes and there are all too many out there ready and willing to take advantage of it.

So why can’t we do an efficient job of tracking when people die as studiously as we do when they are born and make sure that information is available to applicable agencies? Would it really be that hard? When a person passes away there is almost always somebody – generally a doctor, coroner or other public official – who has to make a formal declaration that someone’s life has ended. There are death certificates filed in nearly every case and families often need them for legal reasons. It couldn’t be that tough for the states to institute a requirement that each incident of death, be it an infant or the very elderly, must be reported to a central collection point. That information could be promulgated to the voter registration system, Social Security, the DMV and all other record keeping authorities where concerns exist over misuse of the identities of the dead. And when a voter dies, the people controlling all of those log books in each precinct could simply draw a line through that name and annotate it with the date of death. Then, if a person shows up attempting to sign in and vote under that identity, the police could be immediately notified.

I bet you could cut down dramatically on the number of dead voters that way. And imagine how much money we could save through fraud prevention if all forms of direct benefits were no longer paid out the month after a confirmed notification of death. Is there really anything controversial about this idea?

Yes, privacy advocates and liberals will obviously complain that this is either Big Government stealing the data of citizens in the afterlife or some form of extreme ageism. But the privacy rights of the dead don’t strike me as much of an issue. And the government has a vested interest in knowing how many people there are in the country. It says so right in the Constitution. Surely knowing how many people die is right up there with tracking how many are born in that regard.

Would it be so terrible if we did a better job of tracking who died and making sure all applicable government entities knew about it?