When Voting Goes Wrong: How To Cast a Provisional Ballot

75 million voters have already voted. But we’ve still got a lot of voters who will be voting on November 3rd. Maybe that’s you. And 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 requested an absentee ballot but it never arrived.
✦ You changed your name or address but the voter registration information doesn’t match the change.

In these instances, you should be given the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot, sometimes referred to as challenge ballot or affidavit ballot. No voter should 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 cast your provisional ballot and then you’ll have an opportunity to confirm your eligibility, at which point 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 your legal right 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.


Reminder: Unless mailing your ballot is your ONLY option, it is highly recommended that you turn in your ballot in person at this point. Check to see if you have a drop box or can drop it off at your local elections office.

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