Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), voters whose names cannot be found on the voter rolls on Election Day or who cannot meet HAVA’s new voter identification requirement must be provided a provisional ballot. These provisional votes are subsequently counted if local election officials are able to verify that the individual is a legitimate voter under state law. With predictions of record turnout, including millions of first-time voters, provisional ballots may play a significant role in the 2008 election. 

Importantly, high rates of provisional ballot usage and rejection suggest persistent shortcomings in election administration. More than one in three of the nearly 2 million provisional ballots cast in the 2004 election were ultimately rejected. Compared to 2004, fewer provisional ballots were cast and more were counted in the 2006 election, yet problems remained. In 2008, continued high rates might exceed the margin of victory in several highly contested states in the November presidential race, casting uncertainty on the ultimate outcome and increasing the likelihood of post-election litigation.
This briefing paper describes some of the common problems experienced with provisional ballots, emerging issues, and states to watch in 2008.