The 2013 Virginia attorney general’s race turned on nearly 500 provisional ballots cast in just one county, Fairfax, in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that states without Election Day registration offer voters provisional ballots when there is a question about their eligibility.
A large portion of the Fairfax County provisional ballots was cast by voters who were sent absentee ballots but then showed up in person at the polls. Many of these voters were military personnel and citizens living or traveling abroad who requested absentee ballots for the 2012 election. In Virginia, mail ballot requests for military and overseas voters are in effect for two years, and individuals must notify the state elections board if they want to vote in person. Some of these voters requested ballots in 2012 but then returned to the state in 2013 and showed up at the polls. If individuals who have received absentee ballots appear at the polls without having notified the board, they must cast provisional ballots.
During the 2012 presidential election, Fairfax County, the state’s most populous, had the most provisional ballots among Virginia counties, accounting for 17 percent of all provisional votes statewide. Of those ballots in Fairfax County, 53 percent were verified and counted; in the state as a whole, that figure was 63 percent.