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Provisional Voting: Challenges and Solutions
Ensuring Transparency and Accountability
Ensure that standards and procedures for issuing, processing, researching and counting provisional ballots are clear, transparent, public and uniform.
Record and publicize how many provisional ballots were issued, how many provisional ballots were counted and the reasons for not counting. Jurisdictions are already mandated by HAVA to inform individual voters whether their provisional ballot was counted.
Example: The South Dakota Secretary of State posted on its website the number of provisional ballots per county that were issued in its June 2004 Special Editions.
Evaluate pollworker implementation. Develop a method for evaluating how well pollworkers are following provisional voting procedures to determine if pollworker error contributed to any provisional ballots not being counted.
Example: Montgomery County, MD, created a spreadsheet to monitor reasons provisional ballots were not counted to evaluate and improve the training and procedures. Montgomery County, MD, also created an "Assistant Chief Judge" position (one from each political party) who is responsible for supporting the Chief Judge, particularly in the areas of provisional ballot procedures, technical support and language needs.
Ensuring Trouble-Free Implementation on Election Day
Reduce the need for provisional ballots. Verifying the eligibility of voters who case provisional ballots can be burdensome. Find way to reduce the need for this safeguard by addressing registration problems ahead of time and by attempting to resolve eligibility questions at the polling place so that voters may cast a regular ballot. For example, include educate the public about the importance of voting in the correct precinct.
Make the provisional voting process voter-friendly.
Example: Los Angeles County displays a "Count Me In!" poster to help voters understand and feel comfortable with the provisional voting process
Establish sound methods for directing voters to the correct polling place (and correct precinct if there are multiple precincts within a polling place). Such methods might include voter notification cards, web-based poll site locators, automated phone systems, adjacent precinct maps, and street directories. Include instructions in pollworker training on how to identify a voter's correct polling place and precinct. Provide resources to help the pollworkers direct a voter to his/her correct voting place.
Example: In Virginia, voters can look up their registration status on the VA State Board of Election website. The site can also tell you where your correct polling place is; all the voter needs is his or her "Driver's License PIN number."
Example: In St. Louis County, MO, when a pollworker calls the election office to clarify the voter's registration for the purpose of sending the voter to his/her correct polling place, the voter is given an authorization code to present to the pollworkers at the correct place. This practice saves redundant phone calls on Election Day.
Promote pollworker accountability by tracking errors made in misdirecting voters to the incorrect voting place.
Example: New York City pollworkers are required to sign paperwork when they direct voters to another polling place; as a result, election officials know who made mistakes in this process and will count the vote to correct for pollworker error.
If possible, provide access to the voter registration list at the polling place.
Example: Cook County, Illinois, provides a bonus to pollworkers for using their personal cell phones to communicate with the election office regarding troubleshooting problems and to clarify voter registration issues.
Example: Boone County, Missouri, supplies poll workers with cell phones, pagers and networked lap tops for processing change of addresses on Election Day.
Ensure access to the list of inactive voters. Provide a list of inactive voters at every polling place so that the voter might be activated and the vote file updated when appropriate.
Example: Miami-Dade County, Florida, provides every polling place with a lap top computer containing the full voter list.
Issuing Provisional Ballots
Include questions that will help you investigate the voter's eligibility in the application process for provisional ballots. Such questions would include asking where or how they registered: at the DMV? By mail?
Example: The Missouri provisional envelope leaves space for the voter to explain why he or she believes they're eligible to vote. Boone County, MO, provides a supplemental checklist for the voter to select the location where they registered.
Use information from provisional ballot application process to register voters who weren't registered. Alternatively, attach application to the provisional ballot envelope.
Example: Two sample letters to voters from Marshall County, Iowa: Not Counted and Why and Good News Letter. The "Not Counted and Why" letter advises voters that for those ballots not counted, the provisional envelope has been designed to serve as a registration application and that the voter is now eligible to vote in future elections.
Ensure secrecy of the provisional ballot. For paper-based systems, consider developing a two-envelope system: voters place the provisional ballot in one envelope - a secrecy envelope - that is placed within the envelope that has the application and processing information printed on one side.
Put a window or hole-punch in the provisional ballot envelope to make it easy to check and make sure the voter has put the ballot inside.
Example: Hamilton County, Ohio.
Simplify the process for pollworkers. For example, print the information on one side of the envelope - pollworkers often forget to turn things over. Provide procedural flow charts.
Example: Los Angeles County, has a 3-piece provisional ballot envelope:
Promote pollworker accountability. Remind pollworkers they are responsible for making sure that the provisional ballot envelope is filled out properly.
Ensure provisional ballots cast by voters voting after polling hours because of a court order are kept separate from other provisional ballots.
Example: Virginia's provisional envelope includes a check box for the pollworker to check indicating that the provisional is due to the poll have to be kept open.
Alert your pollworkers that some voters might refuse to vote electronically; educate pollworkers on the policy of how to handle such voters.
Example: The Maryland State Board of Elections issued a policy for the March 2004 Primary stating that paper provisional ballots were not to be provided to voters who were properly listed in the precinct register and wished to avoid voting on DREs.
Processing Provisional Ballots
Keep the provisional ballot process public. Count the number of provisional ballots issued Election Night so you can report the next morning. Develop procedures for tracking and accounting for ballots issued, spoiled and those not voted/returned by voter.
Example: Marshall County, Iowa, uses a spreadsheet to track provisional ballots cast: This serves to: (1) produce the state-required list that must be posted in county offices for challenge review, (2) track types of provisional ballots cast and counted/not counted designation, (3) produce follow up/"free-access" communications with voters, and (4) help identify precincts where pollworkers did not properly implement procedures or where a large number of voters were not registered.
Protect the security and secrecy of provisional ballots. Ensure all provisional ballots are securely stored at the polling place and while in transit. Consider conducting the research regarding voter eligibility by using a photocopy of information on provisional ballot envelope to protect ballots.
Develop method to verify that voters who claim to have registered at the motor vehicle agency did so.
Example: In Iowa, pollworkers fills out a worksheet that includes information from the driver's license to track disposition of registration. The Iowa Department of Transportation has responsibility for verifying these registration applications voter's disposition of registration during the canvass period.