The Election Integrity Project seeks to preserve a government of, by, and for the people

CA Voting 101 – Lesson 7

Welcome to CA Voting 101–Lesson Seven

Provisional Voting

Another element of California’s policy of “convenience voting” is the most expansive and uncontrolled use of provisional ballots in the country. A provisional voter is defined as a citizen whose eligibility to vote in a given precinct cannot be immediately established by poll workers on Election Day—in other words, a voter whose name does not appear on the precinct roster, or who is listed as a mail ballot voter and has no ballot to surrender. Voters not on the roster and mail ballot voters who have no mail ballot to surrender must be offered the opportunity to vote provisionally.  [EC § 2300, 14217, 14310(a)(1)] This is a necessary protection for those who are true victims of error. But DID YOU KNOW that since California extends the use of provisional ballots as a convenience for those who go to a polling place other than their own through carelessness or perceived convenience, the provisional ballot becomes problematic in many ways?

  • as the cause of disenfranchisement
  • as a convenient tool for fraud
  • as the cause of significant delay in obtaining election results
  • as a waste of taxpayer money

To understand how these problems arise, it is necessary to understand what a provisional ballot is and how it is processed and counted. A provisional ballot is a regular ballot that is placed inside a provisional envelope, color-coded by county. The voter writes name and current address on the envelope and signs it. The envelopes are returned sealed with all other ballots to the county elections office, where they are held to be counted only after all Election Day and mail-in ballots are counted. It could take up to THREE WEEKS or more after Election Day for all provisional ballots to be counted. [EC §§ 14217, 14299, 14310(a)(1)] Voters do not know this, and neither do many of the poll workers. Many provisional voters express concern that their ballot be counted “today” and are routinely assured that it will be. Poll workers are not being dishonest—they just don’t know! They also don’t know how provisional ballots are processed.

Each ballot goes through a verification process:

  1. Is the voter properly registered in the county? If “yes”….
  2. Has the voter cast a ballot in any other way in the current election? (This is why ALL other ballots must be counted and recorded first, and the voter history updated, thus necessitating the delay of provisional ballot processing.) If “yes”….
  3. Does the signature on the envelope match the signature on file for the voter? (Because decisions for signature match must be “liberally construed in favor of the voter”, this is an unfortunate opportunity for voter impersonation to succeed.) If “yes”….
  4. Is the ballot different from the ballot the voter should have cast in the assigned precinct? This is to assure that voters cast no vote to which they are not entitled. [EC §§ 14217, 14310]

Precinct lines are not drawn indiscriminately. Neighboring precincts may be in different school board districts, water districts, fire districts, even Assembly, Senatorial or Congressional districts, or cross city or city/county lines, so their ballots will necessarily be different.

  1. If the ballot is different, which is more likely than not, two workers, with little or no supervision, will COPY the voter’s choices onto a blank version of the ballot that the voter should have cast. This process assures that voters do not cast votes to which they are unentitled, but also emphasizes the choices for which the voters have disenfranchised themselves by not obtaining the correct ballot.

Voters have reason for concern with regard to the ballot duplication process. They have no choice but to trust that the worker reading the marks on the original ballot does so accurately, and that the worker marking the new ballot hears and marks correctly. There is little protection against tired, distracted workers, or against workers with an agenda. As one can see, the processing of provisional ballots is complicated, and risky for the voter. The probability of error increases with each pass of the ballot. And for the elections office it is a labor- and time-intensive, and thus expensive, procedure. The process can disenfranchise legitimate voters, but the greater likelihood is that, in the effort to disenfranchise no one, illegitimate votes are counted, each one of which cancels out the vote of a legitimate voter. The provisional ballot is meant as a protection against clerical error, but California’s laws have expanded their use so that Californians routinely go anywhere they think is convenient and vote outside of their own precinct. They are CHOOSING (out of laziness and ignorance) the LEAST SAFE way to vote. Poorly trained poll workers exacerbate the risk. People who show up at the wrong location because their polling place has changed and they didn’t notice the change on their sample ballot are cajoled (at times almost strong-armed) to cast a provisional ballot instead of going down the street to the correct place. Sometimes hundreds of people not on a precinct’s list show up there to vote, and this creates chaos on Election Day and increases the probability that fraudulent votes will be cast and counted.

California accounted for 40% of the nation’s provisional ballots in November of 2012.

This statistic alone should cast great doubt on the accuracy of our election results, given all that can and certainly does, at times, go wrong in the processing of those ballots.  Let’s review the risks one more time: DISENFRANCHISEMENT:

  • When you cast a ballot different from the one in your own precinct, there will likely be votes you will miss, and votes you will cast that will have to be eliminated.
  • When you vote provisionally at the wrong location, your name remains on the street index at your own polls where anyone who wishes can see that you have not voted there. That invites voter impersonation, and if anyone chooses to claim your ballot and submit it (remember, there is no ID requirement), your provisional ballot will be thrown out.

  • Unscrupulous people are free to vote anywhere using any identity they choose. As we have pointed out before, signature match decisions must be “liberally construed in favor of the voter”. It stands to reason, then, that illegitimate votes will be counted, thus canceling out votes of legitimate voters.

  • Provisional ballots cannot be touched for processing or counting until all other types of votes are counted and recorded.
  • Processing of provisional votes is elaborate, time consuming and labor intensive. The more provisional votes there are, the longer the wait for election results.
  • The time and extra personnel required for processing provisional ballots is paid for by taxpayer money, which perhaps could be more profitably spent.

Friends don’t let friends vote provisionally!