Why the Use of Provisional Ballots is Important

In the 2004 election, there were allegations that supporters of John Kerry for President in Ohio at a few ballot locations were handing out flyers to voters leaving predominantly Democrat polling places AFTER voting stating: “If you feel you vote did not count, please go to one of the following places and vote provisionally.” 

As President George W. Bush won Ohio, little follow up was done to corroborate these reports or allegations.  President Bush had no desire to talk about a Presidential election after a clearly victory.  Meanwhile some supporters of Senator Kerry were yelling to fight after election day over the large number of provisional ballots.  The Kerry campaign resisted this. 


However, that tactic may not have been forgotten

At least 26 voters from one Ohio county cast two ballots in the November election, but no extra votes were actually counted.

Hamilton County elections officials say they caught the double votes and are investigating why they happened. If voters intentionally cast more than one ballot, they will be referred to prosecutors for possible criminal prosecution.

Two brief comments on this. 

1. While we don’t know for sure what happened yet, election officials may be focusing on the wrong place.  Most of the above voters were elderly who cast absentee and provisional ballots, a follow up question may be: Why did they do this?  Were they encouraged to do so like in the 2004 allegations?  Were they taken advantage of by unscrupulouspolitical operatives?  We have seen this with vote solicitors encouraging ineligible felons to vote in the past. 

2. After Democrats in Congress supported the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) which mandated states use provisional ballots, a few liberal advocacy groups have been staunchly opposed to this practice. They have called for everything short of completely eliminating the use of provisional ballots.  Prior to the existence of provisional ballots, most of these votes would have counted and there is nothing that could have been done about it

"The system worked the way it should," said Tim Burke, chairman of the Board of Elections and leader of the county's Democratic Party. "The appropriate number of votes were counted. Whether these particular voters acted properly, they did not impact the election because only one vote was counted."

If opponents of provisional ballots had their way, the system would not have worked. The truth is provisional voting in these instances offers a practical compromise between protecting the integrity of the ballot and preventing fraud while affording accessibility and that voters aren't turned away.