Analysis

Report Recommends Reducing Provisional Ballot Use for Address Changes

In June 2014, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report, Governing in a Polarized America, which included strategies for improving election administration. Among its recommendations is that states reduce the number of provisional ballots issued for administrative reasons, such as address changes.

A provisional ballot is often issued when there is a question about a voter’s eligibility on Election Day. Although it is an important fail-safe measure to make sure that voters are not disenfranchised for administrative errors, research presented to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration indicates that large numbers of provisional ballots can slow down the process at the polls, contributing to longer wait times.

The center recommends that states offer voters an opportunity to show proof of their current addresses and be allowed to cast regular ballots. Alternatively, states could create separate change-of-address ballots, which would not be disputable like provisional ballots.

Pew’s Elections Performance Index (EPI) evaluates states on two measures related to provisional ballots: the number of provisional ballots issued and provisional ballots rejected as percentages of all ballots cast. In 2012, the EPI found that California and Arizona (two states that commonly issue provisional ballots to voters needing to change their addresses) had high rates of provisional ballot use. If these states make the changes recommended by the Bipartisan Policy Center, their EPI scores would probably improve. 

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