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VERIFY: Provisional ballots are an option wherever same-day voting is not

You can request a provisional ballot if you are otherwise denied a regular ballot.
Credit: AP
Absentee ballots are seen in a locked ballot box during early voting at the Park Slope Armory YMCA, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

People on social media are reminding voters of their options if things go wrong on Election Day.

One viral tweet said that poll workers are required to give you a provisional ballot with a receipt if you are denied a vote at the polls.

Is that actually true? Will you be given a provisional ballot if you demand one?


Are poll workers required to offer you a provisional ballot if you are denied a normal ballot?


In almost every state, yes. Federal law requires most states to offer provisional ballots, only exempting states where same-day voter registration was an option at the time the law was passed. Today, 47 states offer provisional ballots.


Provisional ballots are required by the Help America Vote Act of 2002. That law requires election officials to offer a provisional ballot instead of a regular ballot when there is uncertainty about a voter’s eligibility.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) offers a list of why voters may be given provisional ballots in different states. The most common reason is that a voter’s identity cannot be immediately established because their name is not on the registration list or for some other reason, although in some states voters may need a provisional ballot if they don’t have an ID as required by their state, if they requested an absentee ballot and did not cast it, or for a number of other reasons.

A provisional ballot may be rejected or accepted after it is cast. Some states are more likely to accept such ballots than others. The NCSL has a chart for reasons different states may reject or accept a provisional ballot.

That law exempted states that offered same-day voter registration at the time the 1993 National Voter Registration Act was enacted. There were six such states: Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

According to the NCSL, three of those states opted to not offer provisional ballots: Idaho, Minnesota and New Hampshire.

You can register to vote the same day you’re voting, even on Election Day, in those states. That means the problems that would normally contribute to you needing a provisional ballot can be dealt with at their polls. The NCSL has a list of 21 states plus the District of Columbia that now allow voters to register to vote on Election Day.

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