[E-voting] "Provisional Ballots" {subj. was: Compulsory voting}

Warren Stewart warren at votetrustusa.org
Mon Sep 12 20:52:49 IST 2005

Hi All

First of all, thank you for this list. My name is Warren Stewart and I 
workon legislative issues for VoteTrustUSA, a US network organization 
for state and local election integrity groups. We currently are focused 
on technology issues, working to ensure accuracy and security in how 
votes are caast and counted. Over the past year dozens of groups have 
created themselves primarily out of concern with unauditable electronic 
voting machines. We recognized that each of these groups was inventing 
the wheel to some extent and saw a need for a national forum for sharing 
ideas, information, and resources. Through John Gideon, one of our 
founders and core group members, I learned about this list and am very 
pleased to have this forum for sharing ideas with activists in other 
countries. I have a personal interest in Ireland, having visited several 
times and developed very dear friendships there.

Regarding provisional ballots, I wanted to note that the manner in which 
provisional ballots are treated varies wildly from state to state. 
Washington (where Marian lives) is by far the most generous - accepting 
ballots even from out-of-state voters. Other states are far more 
restrictive and in some cases provisional ballots appear to have ended 
up disenfranchising voters. In Ohio, where prov. ballots were only 
accepted if cast in the correct precinct, there was considerable 
confusion in multi-precinct polling places when voters who were in the 
correct polling place went to the wrong table and when their names 
didn't appear on the registration list they were given a prov. ballot - 
but of course since there ballot should have been cast at the next table 
it was not counted. More sinister situations have been reported in other 

Electionline.org published a useful overview of provisional ballots in 
the 2004 US election available at for download here 
Federal legislation has been introduced by Rep. Hoyer of Maryland (one 
of the original HAVA authors, for better and worse) that would make the 
rules regarding provisional ballots more uniform nationwide, but it has 
little chance of passage. Omnibus bills introduced by Senators Dodd and 
Clinton also address the treatment of provisional ballots and have 
similar likelihood of passage.

At least one state (North Dakota) avoids this problem entirely by having 
no registration at all. I spoke with the Secretary of State of North 
Dakota about the obvious complications of such a situation and he 
admitted that it worked in ND primarily because it is a sparsely 
populated rural state. I remembering him making the comment that no dead 
people ever voted in North Dakota.

The principal argument I have heard (mostly from Republicans) against 
more lenient acceptance of provisional ballots is that it diminishes 
voting on local candidates and issues.

Thanks again for the list!
Warren Stewart
director of Legislative Issues and Policy

Marian Beddill wrote:

> At 9/12/2005  01:43 AM, Michael McMahon wrote:
>> Marian Beddill wrote On 09/12/05 03:17,:
>> >> I've said this before, but IMHO voters should in the future, be able
>> >> to vote from any polling station
>> >> in the country so long as they can prove their identity. It's not
>> >> practical though with
>> >> paper ballot based systems, (unlike electronic receipt based systems).
>> >
>> > I know that it is practical.  We do it in my state.  A vote cast at a
>> > polling station not that of your residence, is defined as a 
>> "provisional
>> > vote".  They are distinguished by some indicator - like a different
>> > color of ballot or envelope, though dropped into the same (single)
>> > sealed ballot box for transport to the central.
>> >
>> > When there, they are sent to a review panel composed of senior
>> > employees, an elected official, a lawyer, or folks of that caliber.
>> > That review group compares the info with the ballot - of voter ID and
>> > the master voter registry.  Then they judge whether the ballot shall be
>> > allowed in the proper precinct (jurisdiction) or declared invalid.
>> >
>> That's interesting. I had heard of the term provisional ballots, but 
>> never
>> knew what it meant.
>> Presumably though it is only possible within an area where the same
>> ballot paper is being used. What I was thinking about was in the Irish
>> context where there are around forty different constituencies and 
>> therefore
>> forty different ballot papers. I think that situation is more practical
>> with receipt based electronic systems (just like the similar point 
>> about having
>> ballot papers in multiple languages). First, you don't have to predict
>> the numbers of different ballot papers to distribute around the country
>> and second it is easier to transport votes electronically than to 
>> physically
>> send them around the country. But I certainly accept that voting from
>> any polling station should be practical within the same constituency 
>> here.
>> Michael.
> True, that if the provisional ballot is cast using a "ballot style"(*) 
> where the ballot cast is different from that of the voters' precinct 
> of residency, only the questions in common get counted - the others 
> are treated as "blank" - no vote. 
> (*) "ballot style", at least in my community, is the technical term 
> meaning just what Michael pointed out:   different constituencies and 
> therefore different ballots.  To be complete, here it also means the 
> sub-areas of a voting precinct, split for minor questions like funding 
> or commissioners of a specific program or activity - fire protection, 
> cemetery or parks management, when not under the main jurisdiction.
> Marian Beddill
>E-voting mailing list
>E-voting at lists.stdlib.net
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