Provisional ballots provide backup for voters

George Miller, then-freshman in civil engineering, registering to vote for the 2016 presidential election on March 21, 2016. (Archive Photo by Austin Fuller | Collegian Media Group)

With the 2020 general election just days away, certain circumstances might lead voters to need a provisional ballot.

“You’ll cast a provisional ballot when there is some sort of problem with the polls.” Nathaniel Birkhead, associate professor in political science, said. “So you’ll vote on Election Day, and you’re at the polling place you think you’re supposed to be at, but they can’t seem to locate you on the voter rolls or some other kind of problem such as that.”

If a voter believes they’re at the correct polling place, they have the right to request a provisional ballot.

“The provisional ballot is your ability to cast a vote,” Birkhead said. “But unlike the other route where all lights are go, this is one where your eligibility to vote will be reviewed before your vote is actually cast.”

A provisional ballot might also be necessary for someone who isn’t registered in the county they are trying to vote in.

Chuck Marr, former professor at Kansas State and a local elections official for 15 years, said there is a difference in processes depending on whether you are in a different county or not.

“What the provisional ballot consists of in this case is, first of all, a registration process that registers them to vote in Riley County for the next election, but will not count for this election,” Marr said. “Now, there are several reasons that a person might not be in the poll book, one of those is they have recently moved. If they have moved within the past 30 days, you can still vote in the election and your vote will count. Some people may have changed their name recently, and they will still be allowed to vote. These would have to be done with a provisional ballot.”

Since provisional ballots have to be reviewed before being cast, there is a way to track the status of a ballot to see if it will be counted.

“If you vote on election day, you will not have time to determine whether it has been counted or not until have the nomination has been certified,” Birkhead said. “So, at that point there will be no follow up. If you vote early, there is an opportunity to track your progress as a registered voter. So you can go to the Kansas Secretary of State website and track that progress to determine if you have voted or not and if your vote was registered.”

Kansans can see their voting record and ballot status at VoterView.

After the polls close, the behind-the-scenes work gets started on counting the provisional votes.

Rich Vargo, Riley County Clerk, explained the canvassing process after the election.

“Staff will go through and evaluate the provisional ballots,” Vargo said. “On the sixteenth of November, that’s when the staff will recommend to the Board of County Canvassers which provisional ballots are valid and non-valid.”

Reasons for non-valid provisional ballots include not being registered or not providing valid identification in time.

“The common misconception is, I cast a provisional ballot and provisional ballots are not counted,” Vargo said. “That is absolutely incorrect, — 70 percent of provisional ballots are typically counted in every election.”

If a voter needs to cast a provisional ballot due to a name or address change, Birkhead said that supporting documentation is needed.

“The more people are prepared to vote, the better,” Birkhead said. “You can Google where your polling place is, bring your paper trail if you have changed names or address, and if you’re waiting to vote until election day, polling lines are longest in the morning, so if people cannot get up at 7 a.m. and just do it during the day, it goes relatively quickly.”