What Is A Provisional Ballot & How Is It Counted?

A box of ballots to be counted for the 2020 presidential election
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While there have been record-breaking numbers in early voting for the 2020 presidential election, millions of Americans will head to the polls on Election Day to cast their votes. Some of these people will not be able to vote due to issues with eligibility, but they can still have their voices heard by requesting a provisional ballot.

Not to be confused with an absentee ballot, a provisional ballot is a way to record a citizen’s vote when there are eligibility issues that prevent them from voting normally. Reasons one might need to use this type of ballot is because a voter’s name does not appear on the electoral roll at their polling place, eligibility cannot be established, they do not present an acceptable form of photo identification, or their registration contains the wrong address or misspelled name. There can also be an instance where a voter has requested an absentee ballot but has either not received it or did not cast said ballot.

In order for the provisional vote to be counted, election officials and the voter must resolve the issue, which might include the voter giving proof of residency or an acceptable form of identification. Each state determines the amount of time allowed for the issues to be corrected. In most cases, the ballot is not counted until the day after the election.

A poll worker helps a voter with a provisional ballot
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According to Ballotpedia, Idaho, Minnesota and New Hampshire are the only states without an established provisional voting process. Federal law requires the process, but the states themselves determine how it is to be worked out.

A voter can find out if their provisional ballot was accepted by visiting a website or calling a toll-free telephone number. It all varies by state, and a polling official will let the voter know which website to visit and which number to call. Depending on residency, citizens may not find out if their vote was processed for quite some time. Each state has a different timeline for when a provisional ballot must be processed, which can be anywhere from the day after the election to 20 days after.

There are a few instances when a provisional ballot might not be counted. This most commonly happens when a voter casts their ballot in the wrong precinct. Depending upon the state, it could either be accepted or tossed out. States that will reject the ballot for this reason are Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

States that will count part of the ballot are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia. A partial count could include just a federal race, or state and local races, depending on the laws of the state. Maine is the only state that will give a full count under the circumstance that the voter cast their ballot in the wrong location.