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Why You Might Have To Vote a Provisional Ballot

When Christopher Jones went to vote this morning in Wake County, North Carolina, his name wasn't in the poll book at the precinct where he has cast a ballot for the past decade. The county's online voter lookup still had him registered to vote, but his address was listed as being in a different city that he had never lived at. "Somehow in their system I was moved though that never really happened," he wrote in an email to ProPublica.

Jones ended up casting a provisional ballot, which is the fallback option when there's some kind of administrative error. And there are many scenarios in which provisional ballots are used.

In Hidalgo County, Texas, bad weather knocked out power at voting locations in South Middle School this morning, according to the county elections department. "Voters will vote on provisional ballot," the department tweeted.

In states with voter ID requirements, voters who show up at polling locations without proper identification can also vote provisionally. So can voters who go to the wrong place or who do not appear on voter rolls but believe they are eligible.

Created after the 2000 election, provisional ballots are called "affidavit ballots" in some jurisdictions, because they can require a voter's signature or other documentation to validate. Searches about provisional ballots are among the more common election-related ones today, according to Google.

Provisional ballots are counted differently than normal in-person voting ballots in the sense that they can require additional evidence. There are no uniform standards for counting provisional ballots nationwide, but all provisional ballots are processed for counting. That typically happens after other voters are tallied, since another reason that people cast provisional ballots is if there is a record of that person already voting in the election.

About Electionland

ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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