Frank Tanabe knew his time was short. He was battling liver cancer, and at 93, it was clear he wasn’t going to win the fight.
But Tanabe, a World War II veteran whose family spent time interred in a Japanese-American Camp in the U.S. after the attack on Pearl Harbor, had one mission left that he wanted to accomplish before his death: he wanted to vote one last time.
Last week, when his absentee ballot arrived and his daughter read the options for him so he could make those final choices, a family member snapped a photo of him on his deathbed. The photo went viral immediately, prompting tributes from people who were amazed at his determination and, perhaps, guilt from those who take their right to vote for granted, if they pay attention to it at all.
Tanabe died just days after casting his ballot, his family says.
As I mentioned last week, Hawaii’s election laws state that if someone casts an absentee ballot but dies before election day, that vote is supposed to be thrown out. However, this time, time was on Tanabe’s side: for his vote to be disqualified now, the state’s Election Commission must receive an actual death notification, then workers must scour every absentee ballot submitted until they find his, so they can destroy it. And at this point, with the election only a little more than a week away, it’s entirely possible that there just isn’t time for all that red tape to actually unroll itself.
It’s likely, in fact, that Tanabe’s last votes will count.
And despite what the letter of the law says, I don’t mind that.
Sure, I’ve stated before that one fraudulent vote is one too many, but in this case, there’s no fraud: he was frail and sick, but loved his country enough that he wanted to do the right thing as a citizen and exercise that all important right. And given that he’s one of the millions of veterans who served his country so that others of us never had to makes me feel all the more hopeful that he’ll have the chance to have his say, whatever it is, this one final time.
Godspeed, Mr. Tanabe.
And thank you for your service. Right up to the end.