Provisional Ballots

North Carolina’s Record on Issuing and Counting Provisional Ballots

A provisional ballot is used to record a vote when there is some question in regards to a given voter’s eligibility.

Whether a provisional ballot is counted is contingent upon the verification of that voter’s eligibility. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 guaranteed that a voter could cast a provisional ballot if he or she believes that they are entitled to vote.

Provisional ballots are issued to voters when:

  • The voter refuses to show a photo ID (in regions that require one)
  • The voter’s name does not appear on the electoral roll for the given precinct.
  • The voter’s registration contains inaccurate or out-dated information such as the wrong address or a misspelled name.
  • The voter’s ballot has already been recorded

Will your vote count? Comparing North Carolina Provisional ballots in the November 2004 General Election, the November 2006 General Election and the 2008 primary.

An overview of the 2008 Primary in North Carolina shows that things better for voters in our state, but that many voters still don’t understand the registration process and requirements. As a result, some voters will receive a provisional ballot, and some of those ballots will be rejected.  We still have work to do in order to protect the voters’ franchise.  just released their report on the 2008 primary elections.  You can read it all at 2008 Primary in Review . Electionline advised the following for North Carolina: 69.3% of provisional ballots that could not be counted were for voters who were not registered to vote. 14.2% of voters whose ballots were not counted had been removed from the rolls. Electionline did not provide the number of provisional ballots.




The above charts are from Electionline’s report 2008 Primary in Review


The fact is, North Carolina’s number of ballots cast in the May 2008 primary was higher than the General Election turnout in November 2006. The number of provisional ballots issued decreased from 92,621 in the 2006 GE to only 31,381 ballots in May 2008. The percent of provisional ballots rejected actually decreased by about 3%.


Two factors that reduced the need for provisional balloting in 2008:


SL2007-253 The implementation of Same Day Registration this year. Signed into law July 20, 2007. Voters who normally would get a provisional ballot could instead re-register and immediately clear any registration problems.  Voters who were inspired to register during the early voting period also had a chance to participate. See .


S.L. 2007-391 The elimination of the “No Match No Vote” rule signed into law August 19, 2007.  This change eliminated a  policy that prevented thousands of North Carolina voters from successfully registering to vote, including voters using the new same-day registration procedure.  Under the former policy, voter-registration forms from citizens could be rejected if even a single letter of their personal information on their registration cards did not match their personal information in Social Security or state motor vehicle data bases.  See “Making sure it counts”  in the Aug 29,07 issue of the Washington Daily News.


The number of provisional ballots cast (and not counted) in Nov 2006 increased over the number in Nov 2004. Provisional ballots are “conditional” ballots issued to voters who have some sort of voter registration problem or who have shown up at the wrong polling place. Another problem is where voters’ registration applications are rejected because of failure to match government databases. We call this the “no match – no register” rule.  Often the failure to match is due to clerical errors, name changes due to marriage or problems with the database itself.

Many people don’t realize that provisional ballots are not counted on election day, and a large percent (about 35-40% in NC) won’t get to count. North Carolina has a problem.

Tova Wang, in her piece Blocking The 2006 Vote  [1]  talks about the high rate of discarded provisional ballots:

“We now have further evidence that ID rules suppress voter turnout by notable degrees. A study just released by political scientists at Rutgers University concludes that, compared to states where a voter need only state his or her name, requirements for signature, non-photo identification and photo identification translate into significantly reduced voter turn-outs.

Finally, all of these problems—along with the prospect of machine breakdowns—portend the use of even more provisional ballots than ever.

But if you vote using a provisional ballot—will it be counted?

A study by  found that “500,000 provisional ballots—out of 1.6 million provisional ballots cast—were deemed ineligible and thrown out in the 2004 election Whether a provisional ballot is counted or not is in the hands of individuals examining and making a judgment as to whether it and the voter qualifies under that state’s particular provisional ballot counting rules.”

In Electionline’s report  Election Reform Briefing 10: Solution or Problem? Provisional Ballots in 2004 [2]  the report indicates that states that have election day registration have almost NO provisional ballots at all:

“The federally-mandated system of provisional voting, included as part of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), provides for voters who believe they are registered but whose names do not appear on polling place rosters. November marked the first time provisional ballots were required nationwide in a general election, with results that could generously be rated as mixed.”

How did NC rank in provisional ballots next to other states?

According to Electionline, North Carolina ranked 5th of 50 states for highest number of provisional ballots issued:

  • California had 668,408 provisionals with 74% counted,
  • Arizona had 101,536 provisionals with 73% counted,
  • Ohio had 158,642 provisionals with 78% counted,
  • Washington had 87,393 provisionals with 80% counted, and
  • North Carolina had 77,469 provisionals with 55% counted

We ranked 18th for percent of counted provisional ballots, even lthough we were in the top 5 states for issuing.

Provisional Ballots Cast and Counted in November 2006 in NC:  [3]

  • we had 92,621 provisional voters, or 4.55 % of total turnout of 2,036,451.
  • 55,775 provisional ballots, or 60% were counted, or 2.74% of total turnout.
  • 30,307 provisional ballots, or 40 % were rejected, or 1.49 % of total turnout

In Nov 2004, we had less total provisional voters than Nov 2006, but a lower percent counted in 04.

Provisional Ballots Cast and Counted in November 2004 in NC: [4]

  • we had 77,469 provisional voters, or 1.21% of total turnout of 3,501,007
  • 42,348 provisional ballots, or 55% were counted, or 1.21% of total turnout.
  • 35,121 provisional ballots, or 45% were rejected, or 1.00% of total turnout.

NC State law was amended after the 2004 to specifically allow out of precinct ballots to be counted (for contests the voter was eligible to vote in).

The “No Match No Register” Rule in North Carolina –  one cause of wasted provisional ballots

In the New York Times article –   “New Laws and Machines May Spell Voting Woes” , [5] Justin Levitt, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, worried that North Carolina’s requirements that – information provided by voters for registration forms match information in the motor vehicle or Social Security databases could block eligible voters from registering.

Clerical errors, name changes, errors in databases could interact to block registration.

“If someone is listed with their maiden name in one list and their married name in another list, that voter will be blocked from the eligible voter roll,” said Mr. Levitt, adding that these voters may show up in large numbers and not realize that there is a problem.

When the social security numbers don’t match, that is a greater obstacle. In correspondence from Don Wright, General Counsel for the NC State Board of Elections, he advised that:

“The SSA will not communicate to us or the voter why there is no match. That is their national policy. ”

North Carolina was one of 5 states that still had the “No Match No Register” rule.  An applicant’s registration may be denied if their data failed to match that in driver’s license and Social Security databasesAnother legislative success by NC Coalition for Verified Voting was the elimination of the “No Match No Vote” policy in North Carolina that blocked thousands of eligible voters from registering to vote. (With the help of Rep Melanie Goodwin, the Brennan Ctr. for Justice and Project Vote).

See “Making sure it counts” [6] in the Aug 29,07 issue of the Washington Daily News and “North Carolina’s great leap forward on voting rights” [7]By: Michael Slater – August 29, 2007

In 2003 – California, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington, began to reject applicants whose credentials didn’t match. [8] Pennsylvania and Washington have abandoned this practice. [9] Legitimate voters may be denied registration.

Making sure that all eligible voters get the opportunity to cast a regular ballot is an admirable goal.  Eliminating the “No Match No Register” rule, and allowing for Election Day Registration – would nearly eliminate the need for provisional ballots. Limiting EDR to early voting means more safeguards and more flexibility if large numbers of voters show up to register.  Electronic poll books can be used to facilitate election day registration, but like with any technology, there must be a fail safe mechanism in place. Voters must apply to register in person, which serves as a deterrent for fraudulent registration. The ACM, the largest organization for Computing Professionals (in the world) recommends a paper poll book as a backup at all locations when using electronic poll books. [10] With all election reforms, consider the pros and cons, and always have a backup plan.

Provisional Ballots Not Counted




[1] Blocking The 2006 Vote

[2] Election Reform Briefing 10: Solution or Problem? Provisional Ballots in 2004

[3] Provisional ballots statistics in North Carolina for Nov 2006

[4] Election Reform Briefing 10: Solution or Problem? Provisional Ballots in 2004

[5] New Laws and Machines May Spell Voting Woes

[6] Making Sure It Counts

[7] North Carolina’s Great Leap Forward On Voting Rights

[8] Apr.19, 2007 Voter turnout limits said to be White House goal. Miami Herald.

[9] Pennsylvania and Washington abandon “no match no vote” practice.

[10] Statewide Databases of Registered Voters (Electronic Poll books)

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