The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Tim Rusch, (917) 399-0236,

Provisional Ballot Problems Loom as 2008 Electon Approaches, New Report Finds

Some States Reject Tens of Thousands of Provisional Votes in 2006


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.

These include:

  • Unusually High Provisional Balloting Rates: Americans cast 791,483
    provisional ballots in the 2006 election, 1.2 percent of all ballots
    cast. Several states greatly exceeded this rate and may do so again in
  • High Rejection Rates: States rejected 172,555 provisional ballots
    in 2006, 21.8 percent of the total cast. Again, many states rejected
    far more in 2006.
  • Voters "Not Registered": The largest percentage of rejected
    provisional ballots, 43.1 percent in 2006, were invalidated because
    voters were logged as "not registered," despite the voter's belief that
    they were in fact registered.
  • Wrong Precinct: Thirty states and the District of Columbia
    categorically reject provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. In
    2006, 15.4 percent of rejected provisional ballots were thrown out
    because they were cast in the wrong precinct.
  • Insufficient Identification: High numbers of new registrants and
    first-time voters expected in 2008, identification discrepancies
    between voter registration forms and databases, in addition to
    restrictive ID requirements at the polls, may lead to a surge in number
    of provisional ballots cast and possibly rejected.
  • Incomplete and Unsigned Provisional Ballots: In 2006, 3.2 percent
    of rejected ballots were invalidated for being incomplete; 2.2 percent
    were discarded because they lacked the voter's signature indicating
    poor ballot design or lax oversight by poll workers. Several states
    exceeded these rates.
  • "No Match, No Vote": States that have adopted exact data matching
    requirements between voter rolls and information stored by state DMV's
    or the Social Security Administration, provisional ballots may be
    rejected if voters fail to resolve mismatches within a prescribed
    post-election deadline.
  • Polling Place Challenges and Foreclosed Voters: Soaring
    foreclosures rates may lead to increased rates of provisional balloting
    as some voters may not have had an opportunity to switch their
    registrations to their new addresses.

"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:

To schedule an interview with report author Scott Novakowski, please contact Tim Rusch at or (917) 399-0236.

Demos is a think tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy. Through cutting-edge policy research, inspiring litigation, and deep relationships with grassroots organizations, Demos champions solutions that will create a democracy and economy rooted in racial equity.