Of the approximately 125,000 ballots cast on Election Day last month in Washington, more than 20,000 were provisional, known in the city as “special” ballots. Nearly two weeks after the midterm vote, 14,000 provisional ballots had yet to be counted—ballots that had little impact on citywide contests but greatly affected some school board and neighborhood races. The count was complete by Nov. 20, but several races were close enough to trigger recounts.
The large number of provisionals was due in part to the city’s same-day registration process, in which new voters are given special ballots at the polls and their votes are not counted until after Election Day, once their eligibility is confirmed. Verification takes three to five minutes per ballot for sorting, plus additional time to evaluate and count eligible ballots. Of the 20,000 provisional ballots cast, an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 (35 to 40 percent) were used for same-day voter registration.
Many other jurisdictions conduct same-day registration without the use of provisional ballots. In Minnesota, for instance, voters can register and vote using a regular ballot at their polling places on Election Day by providing proper identification or arriving with a registered voter who can confirm their information.