Provisional ballots provide rights to people whose eligibility to vote is in question. The vast majority of people in Pinellas County and across Florida will likely not encounter a provisional ballot, but knowing what it is can prepare you in case you need to fill one out at the polls.
What is a Provisional Ballot?
Provisional ballots mean that no voter who believes they are eligible and registered to vote should leave the polls without voting. Provisional ballots are basically regular ballots that must be reviewed by the canvassing board before they can be counted. In some cases, the voter must submit additional documents to “cure” (or fix) the issue and make sure their provisional ballot can be counted. In Florida, the deadline to fix ballot issues is 5 p.m. on the Thursday after Election Day.
It is important that individuals vote in the correct precinct for their current residence. If you cast a provisional ballot in the wrong precinct, it may not be counted.
When should a voter be given a provisional ballot?
As long as you are registered to vote in Florida, many issues – such as address changes – can be handled at the polls and you should be given a regular ballot. Provisional ballots should be a “last resort” used in the following circumstances:
- The voter does not have the required identification with them at the polls
- The voter’s name does not appear on the voter rolls (after checking different name spellings/variations and checking if the voter is just registered in a different part of Florida)
- The voter received a mail ballot and now wishes to vote in-person, but did not bring the mail ballot with them to the polls (and the poll workers cannot confirm whether or not the mail ballot has already been cast)
- The voter’s eligibility has been challenged by a poll watcher or another voter (for issues other than address)
- Other similar situations in which the voter believes they are eligible to cast a ballot
What should voters do if they have to vote a provisional ballot?
If you have to vote a provisional ballot, the poll workers will give you written instructions. Poll workers are required to provide you with instructions about how to check the status of your ballot on a free access system (i.e. toll-free telephone number, internet website). If your ballot is not counted, you will be able to see the reason for ineligibility.
You should also receive instructions about how you can present written evidence to support your eligibility to vote and make sure your ballot can be counted. Any evidence must be submitted to the Supervisor of Elections by 5 p.m. on the Thursday after Election Day.
If you were given a provisional ballot because you did not have valid photo and signature identification, your provisional ballot will be counted if (1) you are eligible and registered to vote at the precinct where you voted, and (2) your signature on the provisional ballot matches the signature in your voter registration record.
Provisional Ballots Are Protected By The Federal Government
Provisional ballots are part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Under Section 302. (a) ‘Provisional Voting Requirements’, of the Help America Vote Act(HAVA) of 2002, Congress states that an individual may be permitted to cast a provisional ballot upon written affirmation by the individual before an election official at the polling place, stating that the individual is a registered voter in the jurisdiction in which they desire to vote in, and is eligible to vote in that election. It is then sent to a state or local election official for verification.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission(EAC) was created as a result of the HAVA of 2002. This commission develops guidance for states in order to meet the requirements of the Act. The EAC also administers payments to states and serves as a resource of information regarding election administration.
Under this law, no one whose right to vote is questioned should be turned away without filling out a ballot. At the very least, they can fill out a provisional ballot and it will either be counted later or rejected if they are, in fact, ineligible to vote.
Florida’s Provisional Ballot Law
The law for provisional ballots for the State of Florida is found under Florida Statutes Title IX, Chapter 101.048 ‘Provisional Ballots’.
In Florida, if an individual is eligible, but their eligibility cannot be determined, they are deemed not eligible by an election official, or they fall into the category of “other persons specified in the code,” they are entitled to a provisional ballot. Once submitted, the voter has until 5pm the second day following the election to submit any evidence supporting his or her eligibility to vote to the supervisor of elections who will review the provisional ballot. The voter’s provisional ballot will then be reviewed to determine if the voter was entitled to vote at the precinct that it was cast in and if that the person had not already voted.
If it is determined the voter was eligible, then the signature on the provisional ballot is compared to the voter registration signature, and if matched, the ballot will be counted. If the individual voting was not registered or entitled to vote at the precinct where it was cast for that election, the provisional ballot will not be counted, will remain in the envelope, and will be marked ‘rejected as illegal’.
Know Your Voting Rights
If you arrive at the polls and are told that you are not eligible to vote, know your rights. Ask the poll workers to check different spellings of your name and (if you have moved) previous addresses. You have a right to update your address and your name at the polls, if necessary, and vote a regular ballot.
If the poll workers are unable to confirm your eligibility, ask to fill out a provisional ballot and follow up on it to fix any issues before 5 p.m. on the Thursday after Election Day.
If you have questions, call the nationwide non-partisan Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE