Provisional Ballots

The “Maybe” Votes

For a variety of reasons, including clerical errors and erroneous list maintenance procedures, eligible, registered voters may arrive at the polls and discover that their names are not on the official voter rolls.

Provisional BallotsTo counter this risk, Congress included a “fail-safe” provisional voting requirement in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). Election officials are required to provide provisional ballots to individuals who are not listed on the official list of registered voters. These ballots are only counted once election officials determine that the individual is indeed eligible to vote.

But provisional voting has been widely overused, and has proven unreliable. Some poll workers have failed to offer provisional ballots to voters at all. In other cases, states have applied such varying methodologies for counting provisional ballots that tens of thousands of ballots have not been counted at all.

States have a responsibility to adopt best practices that decrease reliance on provisional ballots, and increase the likelihood that such ballots will be counted.

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Model Bill: Provisional Voting

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This document provides a template for lawmakers and other interested parties to draft bills in support of provisional voting legislation. Read more

Legislative Brief: Ensuring that Provisional Ballots are Counted

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This legislative brief outlines the reasons why thousands of provisional ballots have not been counted since the passage of Help America Vote Act, and why the use of provisional ballots should be limited. It also provides policy recommendations which, if implemented by all states, would increase the likelihood that a voter’s provisional ballot would count. Read more