The rules governing provisional ballots are as confusing as they are dynamic. In five different battleground states, lawsuits over how to count provisional ballots have resulted in five different methods.
Provisional ballots, which enable voters whose names are not on voter rolls to cast conditional ballots, are one of several major federal reforms passed in the wake of the last presidential election. They are supposed to make voting easier — helping those left off voter rolls in error — but election officials worry they may instead turn this November into another fiasco.
That’s one of the main reasons the League of Women Voters has, for the first time in its 84-year history, gone on a major offensive to protect citizens’ votes. League President Kay Maxwell visited Columbia on Wednesday on one of the last stops in her six-state tour aimed at educating voters.
“The unprecedented number of reforms combined with the unprecedented number of people registering is the reason why we’re doing this,” Maxwell said. “That, the 2000 problems, and the current issues at hand make this election really important.”
Maxwell said provisional ballots and registration issues could become crucial in this election, especially in states where the race is close. If provisional ballots are high in those states, “how those states count ballots could be a key factor in determining who wins the state,” she said.
Some states, such as Florida, will only count provisional ballots if cast in the correct precinct while other states will count them even if they’re cast outside the voter’s assigned precinct. The methods may change in the coming weeks, however, as parties continue to appeal rulings.
In Missouri, a federal judge recently ruled that the only situation in which a provisional ballot cast in the wrong precinct may be counted is if a poll worker failed to direct the voter to the correct polling place. However, Missouri Democrats are considering an appeal.
While Maxwell appreciates having a last chance ballot, she is urging voters to make sure they are registered and know their correct polling place.
“We want to make sure people know they can vote a provisional ballot but also try to avoid the necessity of doing that,” Maxwell said.
Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren, who spoke with Maxwell at a joint press conference, said her office had enacted a number of precautionary measures this fall to ensure as many votes are counted as possible. They include:
- Five central polling places have been established that will help voters who experience problems resolve issues or cast provisional ballots.
- Dozens of polling places have been equipped with laptops, cell phones and pagers that will help facilitate address changes and other voter problems.
- Sample ballots and polling places have been sent to active registered voters.
- Poll workers have had additional training on how to deal with voter problems.