POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Provisional Ballot

The federal Help America Vote Act  2002 requires US election officials to provide provisional ballots (instead of regular ballots) to voters whose eligibility is uncertain. Provisional ballots ensure that voters are still given the opportunity to vote even if their eligibility may come into question. They are also referred to as “challenged ballots” or “affidavit ballots”. Each individual state has its own regulations relating to provisional ballots.

Reasons for a provisional ballot

There are numerous reasons why voters may cast a provisional ballot. The most common are:

  • the voter is not listed on the electoral roll but claims to be registered  
  • the voter requested an absentee ballot but didn't receive or cast it
  • the address or name of the voter has changed but this hasn't yet been captured in official records
  • a poll watcher questions the eligibility of a voter
  • the voter was unable to present a valid voter ID as required by the state

What happens with the provisional ballot?

Provisional ballots are kept separate from regular ballots and are investigated by local election officials after election day. This process involves verifying the voter’s identity and eligibility to vote and may require the voter to provide further information. If the voter is able to successfully verify their eligibility, the ballot is fully or partially counted. However, if the voter's eligibility cannot be verified after this review, the ballot is declared invalid. 

See also: Absentee Voting, Advance Voting, Ballot Paper, Polling Card, Polling Place

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