Report Tallies Votes Lost Due to Provisional Ballot Laws

A recent report by the Fair Elections Legal Network classifies states into three categories based on their laws for counting provisional ballots cast in the wrong jurisdiction, polling place, or precinct. The report focuses on votes that are cast by registered voters at a location other than the one where they are assigned and are subsequently rejected:

  • Full rejection. In 22 states provisional ballots are fully rejected if they are cast in the wrong county, precinct, or polling place. In the 2012 election, these states rejected 45,376 such ballots.
  • Partial counting. In 17 states, certain conditions, which the network divided into three subcategories, must be met for provisional ballots cast at the wrong location to be counted:
    • Correct polling place. In two states, New York and Missouri, if the voter was at the correct polling place but cast the wrong ballot, provisional ballots are partially counted. That is, they are counted for all races the voter was eligible to vote in, but rejected for any others. These states have multiple precincts sharing a polling place, and each precinct has its own registration roll. Voters must locate the correct precinct within the polling place in order to cast their correct ballot. If, however, a voter is at the wrong polling place, the ballot is fully rejected.
    • Correct jurisdiction. In seven states, provisional ballots are counted for some races as long as they were cast in the correct jurisdiction (usually the county) regardless of polling place.
    • Statewide. Eight states will count provisional votes for all races that the voter was eligible for, regardless in which jurisdiction or polling place the ballot was cast.
  • Not applicable. The 12 states that offer Election Day registration or do not require voter registration do not have to issue provisional ballots, but some choose to do so as an additional fail-safe.

A state’s laws regarding the counting of provisional ballots can be pivotal in close races.

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