How to Cast a Provisional Ballot

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Sometimes, despite our best efforts, something goes wrong on Election Day. It is important to understand that you have rights and options.

What kinds of problems do I mean?

✦ You show up to your polling place but your name isn’t on the voter roll.
✦ Your ID is being challenged by a poll worker.
✦ A poll worker is disputing your eligibility to vote.
✦ You changed your name or address but the voter registration information doesn’t match the change.

In these instances, you should be give the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot, sometimes referred to as challenge ballot or affidavit ballot. The reason is that you shouldn’t be barred from voting because of some clerical or administrative error. How each state treats their provisional ballot is a bit different, but essentially, you’ll have an opportunity to confirm your eligibility right after the election and then your vote will be counted.

Key point: You have a legal right to cast a provisional ballot, which is granted to you by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA).

So, with that in mind, if you have any of the aforementioned problems, this is what you need to do:

1. Make sure you’re at the right polling location.
2. Ask to cast a provisional ballot. If the poll worker gives you any grief, remind them that they are required BY LAW to give you one.
3. Vote.
4. Get a receipt for the provisional ballot you turn in.
5. Find out what follow up steps you need to take. 

Every state treats provisional ballots a bit differently, and the steps you need to take to follow up on your provisional ballot may be different. Make sure you understand what they are. Get that information before you leave the polling location.

HAVA also requires that the state tell you whether or not your provisional ballot ultimately was counted. When you get the information about how you need to follow up on your provisional ballot (i.e. what proof of residence you may need to produce, etc.), you should also find out how you can check if you ballot was counted or rejected.

If in the end, a poll worker denies you the ability to cast a provisional ballot, call the Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.

Note: There are a few states that don’t have provisional ballots only because they offer same-day registration. In those states, you may be directed to register and then vote.

For more information about state specific provisional ballot information, visit the NCSL’s Provisional Ballot information page.

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3 replies

  1. There is an incipient problem: FWAB voters who are only given the federal ballot (not the state ballot) in certain states. I had them try to pull this with me in Pennsylvania.

    The FWAB post card, since Trump got in, gives you this choice:

    1) “temporary and intend to return”


    2) “return uncertain”

    There is no “return uncertain but will return” or something that indicates domicile is not abandoned.

    So how the Republicans are screwing with Democratic overseas voters. They know that most overseas military (who have a slightly different rule about domicile) are sheltered, and they believe that most of these military voters are Republican. (Except minority service members, and they use different means to exclude them.) But most overseas civilians are likely to vote Democratic.

    Pennsylvania election law (Title 25, section 1302(b)(1) is very clear: If your “habitation” is fixed in a place, and WHENEVER the individual is absent, the individual has the intention of returning, you are “resident”. Nothing about temporary or not. You can be uncertain as to when you will return, but if your intention will be go back to Pennsylvania (domicile), then you meet the state law.

    What is going on in Wisconsin, is that if you check “temporary”, they basically say get your butt back to the state on Election Day. If you say “uncertain”, they say you aren’t domiciled. Pennsylvania’s Republican counties seem to be pulling the same nonsense.

    Fourteenth Amendment makes Americans citizens of the country AND of the state in which they reside, which is interpreted as domicile. (You don’t have own a house or apartment.)

    This is a voter suppression issue that is totally off the radar of Democrats because it is esoteric. It should NOT be off the radar of Democrats Abroad!

    • I did an interview with Democrats Abroad but our conversation focused more on boosting awareness and turnout. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, as I’d love to tackle all forms of voter suppression in future posts.


  1. Tues 11/5: It’s Election Day! How to help from here. – INDIVISIBLE VENTURA

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