November 2, 2004 marked the first time all states offered federally-mandated provisional ballots in a general election. While the use of fail-safe, affidavit, or provisional ballots was not new to more than two-thirds of states before the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the requirements enacted by Congress requiring notification for voters of the dispensation of their provisional ballot were.
The use of provisional ballots could, in one sense, be considered a national success. Nearly 1.1 million provisional ballots were counted out of 1.6 million cast. Many of those voters would have been otherwise disenfranchised. But that success was not unqualified.
This electionline.org study of provisional ballot statistics from around the country revealed that even a national standard does not mean uniformity.The lack of uniformity has raised concerns from civil rights groups to the halls of Congress. And for good reason – if the intention of HAVA was to make sure every vote counted, the national mandate for provisional ballots did not always achieve that goal.
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, please visit electionline.org.