New Brief Discusses Improvements for Counting Provisional Ballots

Cross-posted to Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Although the Help America Vote Act of 2002 provided "fail-safe" provisional voting to prevent the unnecessary disenfranchisement of eligible citizens who show up at the polls to find that they are not on the rolls, there are still thousands of voters whose ballots are not being counted.

Despite HAVA's mandate, many eligible citizens find themselves voiceless, sometimes for reasons beyond their control. As the first release of Project Vote's 2010 Issues in Election Administration series, Ensuring that Provisional Ballots are Counted explores the reasons why significant numbers of provisional ballots have not been counted since HAVA's implementation and offers recommendations for states to follow in order to increase the likelihood that eligible citizens' voters are ultimately counted.

The rates for counting provisional ballots vary widely from state to state. In 2008, the state of Maine counted 100 percent of provisional ballots, while only 15.7% were counted in Delaware. Nationwide, just 67.3 percent of provisional ballots were counted. Reasons for rejecting a ballot vary as well. Most commonly, ballots are rejected because an individual is not registered or cast the provisional ballot in the incorrect precinct or jurisdiction.

While unregistered status is most often cited as the culprit for rejection of provisional ballots, it does not account for why a person is not on the voter rolls, which may be beyond the voter's control. A person could be excluded from voter rolls for a number of reasons, including late voter application processing; failure of the board of elections to notify the applicant that additional information is needed to process; or even inappropriate purging from voter rolls.

The variance in state rules for counting provisional ballots also has an impact on counting of provisional ballots. Many states require citizens to cast ballots in the correct precinct, an issue for Americans who move frequently.

"It seems especially absurd that a vote cast for President by an eligible voter would not be counted just because it was cast in the wrong precinct," the brief suggests, offering a solution of counting provisional ballots at either the county or statewide level. "In the 2006 general election, states allowing broader jurisdiction-wide acceptance of provisional ballots had significantly higher rates of counting provisional ballots: 84.96 percent compared to 71.82 percent in other jurisdictions."

In the brief, Project Vote provides policy recommendations on improving provisional voting, based on a survey conducted across the country and a review of state law. Ultimately, Project Vote suggests limiting the use of provisional ballots by implementing Election Day Registration. "If an individual meets registration requirements, there is no valid reason why she should not be allowed to register and vote. Ten states currently allow Election Day Registration, or have no voter registration requirements. In fact, in the 2006 election, voter turnout in states that permitted same day registration was 13% higher than in states that did not offer the option."

Tags: Voting Rights, election reform, provisional voting, Project Vote, legislation, election day registration (all tags)

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