Some States Reject Tens of Thousands of Provisional Votes in 2006; Provisional Ballots May Play a Significant Role in 2008
New York, NY-- Provisional ballots could play a significant role in the 2008 Election, frustrating voters and leading to possible post-election wrangling, according to a study published this week by the non-partisan public policy center Demos. Provisional Ballots: Where to Watch in 2008 identifies eight states where there is significant concern over provisional ballot implementation and the high risk of many of those ballots going uncounted in this election.
Provisional balloting was adopted nationwide as part of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) in an effort to remedy the problem--widespread in the 2000 election--of voters being turned away from the polls because their names were not on voter rolls. This so-called 'fail-safe' voting provision requires states to offer provisional ballots to individuals who believe they are registered to vote but whose names do not appear on the voter rolls or who do not meet federal identification requirements. Such ballots are counted if election officials subsequently determine that the individual was a legitimate voter under state law.
"When implemented correctly, provisional ballots can enfranchise voters. However, when states adopt unnecessarily stringent standards for counting them and poll workers are not adequately trained in their administration, provisional ballots can have the opposite effect," said report author and Demos Senior Policy Analyst Scott Novakowski.
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 2004 election were ultimately rejected. Compared to 2004, fewer provisional ballots were cast and a higher percentage 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, possibly resulting in uncertainty on the ultimate outcome and increasing the likelihood of post-election litigation.
The new Demos report highlights several key problem areas, including some new potential problems for 2008, as well as states where problems are most likely to occur.
"Several states had very high rates of provisional balloting in 2006--sometimes three to five percent of ballots cast. Such high rates of provisional balloting, along with high rates of rejection, are not only an indication of underlying problems with a state's election system, but also are an open invite to candidates looking to take votes away from their opponents," said Novakowski. "Furthermore, new issues such as Florida's "no match, no vote" law as well as the mortgage crisis and the accompanying wave of displaced voters could lead to even greater numbers of provisional ballots in 2008."
The study also provided details on states where provisional ballots problems could emerge on November 4, including Ohio, Arizona, Florida, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. To view the full report: www.demos.org.