What Happens If You Cast a Provisional Ballot?

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (NWA Politics) — If there are problems with a voter’s address, or they cannot produce appropriate identification at the poll, they’ll be asked to cast a provisional ballot.

There are a number of reasons some voters may be given a provisional ballot, but it can be confusing to some, especially if they’ve never heard of it before. They may even think their vote won’t count if it’s provisional, but officials have said that’s not the case.

Washington County Election Coordinator Jennifer Price said a provisional ballot is cast when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility. She said Arkansas has something called Fail-Safe Voting, meaning all voters who show up to a polling location can still cast a ballot, even if there are questions about their eligibility. They just may have to cast a provisional ballot.

The ballot comes in an envelop like the one pictured below.

The envelop will contain a specially marked ballot that is loaded into a voting machine where a poll worker will manually input a precinct. It is then stored separate from regular ballots, Price said.

There are a number of reasons someone may be given a provisional ballot. If they’re unable to produce proper identification but are willing to sign a sworn statement verifying their name, they’ll be given the ballot. If they’re unable to show identification and unwilling to sign the sworn statement, they’ll have until the following Monday to come back to the courthouse with proper identification, or their provisional ballot won’t count, Price said.

According to Price, poll workers may be unable to find a voter in their system, which could happen if they’ve moved into a brand new residence. If lines are long, and there’s little time to correct the problem, that voter will be given a provisional ballot, and the county clerk will work to confirm their identification later.

Some first-time voters may find themselves flagged if they failed to put a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number on their voter registration form before mailing it in. In that instance, under federal law, they’d have to show proper identification when voting, or they’ll be given a provisional ballot, Price said.

In some instances, a person voting absentee will end up with a provisional ballot.

Poll watchers can also challenge a voter, and then that voter be given a provisional ballot, Price said.

However a voter ends up with a provisional ballot, they’ll have information to fill out on the envelop they’re given that contains their ballot. They’ll also be given a letter that explains why they were put on a provisional ballot. That letter can be seen below.

Provisional Ballot Letter

Each polling site has a secure ballot bag for provisional ballots, and they’re all brought back to the courthouse on election night. They’re turned over to the county clerk’s office the following day. At that point, the clerk’s office begins verifying identities.

If a person’s identity is verified, their provisional ballot is counted like every regular ballot, according to Price. If they cannot be identified, or it turns out they weren’t registered to vote, their provisional ballot will not count.

Either way, voters will receive a letter in the mail from the clerk’s office informing them if their provisional ballot was counted.

After every election, Price said the county election commission holds a scheduled meeting where voters who cast provisional ballots may appear and attempt to provide proof of their identity and why their ballot should be counted.

When filling out a provisional ballot envelop, voters will also be asked to fill out a voter registration form, Price said. That way, if it turns out they weren’t registered, or their address was incorrect, it’ll be fixed for the next election.

As for how voters react when being given a provisional ballot, Price said it depends upon the circumstances. One of the hardest situations is when someone hasn’t voted in several years, and they show up on election day, thinking they can vote just as they had before.

Price said voters who don’t cast a ballot for six years are taken off the voter rolls, and they’ll have to register again. And if they don’t register at least 30 days before the election, they cannot participate in that election.

Before a voter is removed from the rolls, Price said the county clerk’s office will send letters and try to track that person down, asking if their address or name has changed.

In a small election, two or three provisional ballots may end up being used, according to Price. But in a larger election, that number increases.

Price said in the 2016 general election, 135 provisional ballots were counted in Washington County. A total of 90 provisional ballots were not counted.

The number one thing Price said she wants voters to know is if a provisional ballot is eligible to be counted, it will be, regardless of how close the election is. Some believe that provisional ballots are only counted if the election is close, but that’s not the case at all, Price said.

“We take it very seriously,” Price said.

Provisional ballots aren’t just stuck in some box and never looked at, according to Price. If they’re valid, they’ll be counted just the same as regular ballots.

The primary election is set for May 22, and early voting has already started. To find your polling location, click here.