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Provisional Ballots and Other Voter Issues


Less than two weeks until Election Day, more than 1.1 million people have already voted in the battleground state of Florida – including 118,000 early voters as of Tuesday. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports many will have to vote by provisional ballot, while others’ right to vote appears to be under siege.

“Sort of the best way to think of [provisional ballots] is as kind of a ‘last chance’ ballot if you will,” says Okaloosa County Elections Supervisor Paul Lux.

A provisional ballot is conditional, the validity of which is determined by a county’s canvassing board. Those casting them believe they’re registered to vote, even though their names are not on the official voter rolls.

“A voter who has an issue with their registration – whatever that issue might be at the time they show up to vote – this gives them an opportunity to still vote on Election Day and then have two days to bring us proof of eligibility,” said Lux.

If you were issued a provisional ballot you can check its status at your county’s supervisor of elections website. You must have the provisional ballot ID that was given to you at the time you received it, along with your conventional voting ID.

Credit Okaloosa Co. Elections Office
Paul Lux, Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections.

“We let you vote a provisional ballot; instead of going into the ballot box, it gets sealed in an envelope,” Lux says. “They come back separately to the Canvassing Board, and then up to two days afterward, we canvass and count the provisionals. If you have that voter ID card that said you were registered, we can use that as evidence to prove that your ballot should be counted.”

Also called “challenge ballots” or “affidavit ballots,” provisional ballots are required by the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 when there’s uncertainty about a voter’s eligibility. Given Florida’s Voter ID law, Lux says a more common use for them is when people fail to bring proper ID to the polls. They can be asked to fill out a provisional ballot.

“In that instance, it’s treated almost like a vote-by-mail ballot in that you vote a provisional, you seal it in the envelope, [and] you sign the certificate,” said Lux. “But then when it comes back to our office you don’t have to provide us proof of anything. We simply match your signature on the certificate with the signature of record. And then if everything’s good to go we count your ballot.”

Just before the November 2016 election, a federal judge forced the Florida Division of Elections to allow rejected absentee-ballot voters to correct mistakes on their mailed-in forms. Two years ago, Florida counties overall rejected one percent of all mail-in ballots – more than 27,000. 

“We’ve seen that vote-by-mail ballots have been rejected at varying rates; we’ve seen some counties where nearly every vote-by-mail ballot is counted and others where one to two percent of the ballots were rejected,” said Sarah Latshaw, who heads the ACLU’s Escambia County office.

The invalidations for younger voters and voters of color — who tend to lean left — appeared to be at a far higher rate in 2016, compared to 2012. But Latshaw says there are barriers to voting in every election cycle.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Sarah Latshaw, ACLU Escambia County.

“[The ACLU] is part of a coalition of organizations that will be participating in election protection,” Latshaw says. “If someone has an issue or sees an issue or is experiencing a barrier to voting, we certainly hope they will reach out to us. There’s a hotline that’s 1-866-OUR-VOTE (8683)”

To avoid any problems at the polling location – either early voting or on November 6 – Okaloosa County’s Paul Lux says to make sure you have some form of photo and signature identification.

“Your driver’s license; a military ID, passport, student identification card, even a concealed carry permit can be used as a form of photo ID,” said Lux. “But if the photo ID you provide does not also have your signature, then you’ll be asked for a second form of identification which has a signature.”

The ACLU’s Sarah Latshaw says supervisors of elections are required by law to notify voters whose ballots were tossed.

“The ACLU has been phone-banking people whose vote-by-mail ballot didn’t count in the primary, and we found a surprising number of people who were unaware,” Latshaw said. “It’s really important that you track your ballot, and make sure that you have updated your signature.”

Figures from the state Division of Elections show 13.2 million Floridians are registered to vote in next month’s mid-term. That’s an increase of more than 500,000 from the 2016 election.

That voting hotline number once again is 1-866-OUR-VOTE. (866-687-8683).