Provisional Ballots: What to Do If You’re Told You Can’t Vote on Election Day

COLUMBIA, SC - FEBRUARY 20: A pile of "I Voted" stickers is seen at a polling station at Hand Middle School February 20, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina. Residents of South Carolina picked their candidate in the state Republican primary today. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

What should you do if you’re told you can’t vote? (Getty)

If you show up on election day to vote and are told that you can’t or you’re not qualified, you need to know what to do. You may be offered a provisional ballot, but they typically aren’t counted until after election day. How do provisional ballots work?

Here’s what you need to know.

If you show up to vote and are told that you cannot vote or you’re not registered, do not leave without voting. You may be told you can’t vote because your name doesn’t appear on the voter registration list, you don’t have the right ID, or your eligibility was challenged. In a worst-case scenario, you can ask for a provisional ballot. However, remember that a provisional ballot is, indeed, a worst-case scenario pick.

This is not an “official” ballot. Once a provisional ballot is cast, election officials will later review it to determine your eligibility to vote. It will rarely be counted on election day itself. Sometimes you may have to submit forms within a certain period after election day to confirm your right to vote. The exact rules vary from state-to-state and city-to-city. Not every provisional ballot is ultimately counted. But it’s still better than not voting at all.

Keep in mind, though, that just because you’re told that you can’t vote doesn’t necessarily mean this is accurate. Not all poll workers are properly trained. Some may suggest provisional ballots to voters merely out of convenience or to make the lines move faster, because they don’t know better, for example.

If you’re told that you must use a provisional ballot because you’re not qualified to vote, you can ask for a second opinion from another poll worker or ask the poll worker to go through the registration records again. You should also make sure that you’re at the right polling location. In some states, if you go to the wrong designated polling location, you’ll be told you can’t vote because you’re not on the registered list and you’ll be erroneously given a provisional ballot. If at all possible, you want to vote on a regular ballot. So ask the official to recheck the rolls and ask if there’s any way to double check that you’re at the right location.

Also, understand the laws of your state before you go to vote and any special situations that may be happening in your region. In North Carolina, for example, many people who registered with the DMV were erroneously not added to the voter registration rolls, The News & Observer reported. In this state, if you’re given a provisional ballot and you know it’s because your registration at the DMV wasn’t counted, you should tell the officials working at the polling station. If you tell them, they will be required to count your provisional ballot, but you may need to fill out some paperwork. (If you’re in North Carolina, you can call a special hotline at 1-888-OUR-VOTE.)

In Arizona, however, if you get a provisional ballot because you voted in the wrong polling location, your ballot will be automatically tossed and not counted, KJZZ reported.

If you encounter a problem while you’re voting, you can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE for immediate help on what to do next.