Voter FAQs - Provisional Ballots
What is a Provisional Ballot?
Both state and federal law mandate “fail safe” voting. If a problem develops at the polling place, that prevents you from being able to vote, you are entitled to vote by provisional ballot before you leave the polling place. A provisional ballot is a regular ballot that is sealed in an envelope rather than inserted into the precinct tabulator. The information from the form attached to the envelope is sent to the Recorder’s Office the day after election day to determine whether your ballot should be counted or not. If the decision is made that your ballot should be counted, the envelope will be opened and the ballot will be tabulated. If the decision is made that the ballot was invalid, then the envelope will remain sealed and will not be counted.
I am very embarrassed, frustrated and upset that my ballot did not count on election day and will not be counted until after the election is over.
While this is not a question, it is a common expression received by the Recorder’s Office. First, we are sorry that you are frustrated with the provisional ballot process or felt embarrassed in the polling place. The provisional ballot process is common and occurs in every election. The process is designed to ensure that you are given the opportunity to vote and have that vote counted if it is found to be valid.
Elections are not over until every early and provisional ballot has been processed. While the races at the top of the ballot may have been declared “over” by the media, quite frequently other issues on the ballot may still be very close. Your ballot is always very important. Provisional ballot processing must be completed in every election regardless of the outcome.
The key to resolving the issue is to determine why you were required to vote by provisional ballot and to take the steps necessary to prevent that from occurring in the future. Traditionally, the provisional ballot issue was caused by either voter action or inaction. On occasion, it can be caused by simple typographical errors or tired poll workers.
What are the reasons that a person would be required to vote by provisional ballot?
Under Arizona law, there are four reasons that a poll worker will require a voter to cast a provisional ballot:
1. Insufficient or no identification presented at the polling place.
2. The voter’s name was not found in the poll roster.
3. The poll roster indicates that the voter requested an early ballot.
4. The voter has changed their name without updating their voter registration.
I was required to vote a provisional ballot because I did not have ANY identification at the polls. What do I do now?
The identification requirement was introduced into Arizona law by a voter approved ballot initiative. If you had no form of acceptable identification at the polling place, you must bring identification to the Recorder’s Office within the time limits of the statute. As a convenience to voters, the Recorder’s Office designates several locations within an election area as receiving locations for that identification. The poll workers should have provided you with a list of the required identification and of the receiving locations at the time you finished your provisional ballot. For most elections, the deadline for presenting that identification is 5:00 p.m. on the Friday following election day. For the November election cycles in even numbered years, the deadline is 5:00 p.m. on the 5th business day after election day. That may be either the Tuesday or the Wednesday of the week after election day depending on when the Veteran’s Day holiday falls. If you do not present the proper identification by that deadline, the law requires that your ballot be rejected.
I was required to vote by provisional ballot due to “insufficient identification.” Am I required to bring proper identification to the Recorder’s Office?
No. If you presented some identification but it was insufficient under the law, the Recorder’s Office will compare the signature on the provisional ballot form with the signature and other information on your voter registration form. If we can confirm the signatures were made by the same person and the other identifying information matches, your ballot will be verified and counted.
This differs from the voter who presented no identification. That voter must bring the proper identification to the Recorder’s Office in order to have their ballot counted. A voter who presented some identification, but did not fully meet the rules, does not need to take any further action.
I was required to vote by provisional ballot because my name was not on the poll roster. Why did that occur?
There are several reasons that would result in your name not being on the poll roster:
1. Did you register to vote after the registration cutoff date? By law, you must be registered to vote no later than the 29th day prior to election day. If you did not register by that deadline, your name cannot be included on the poll roster.
2. Did you move without updating your residence address? If you move and do not update your voter registration with your new address, you will still be listed on the poll roster for your old address. However, under state law you are required to vote at the polling place for your new address. After your ballot has been processed, the provisional ballot form will be used to update your voter registration record.
3. Are you in the correct polling place? The most common error by a voter that will lead to their ballot being rejected is to vote in the wrong polling place. Polling places may change from election to election and you must vote on election day at the polling place assigned to your current residence address. The Elections Department mails polling place cards and sample ballots listing the voter’s polling place for the current election. If you do not know the correct polling place, you can find your polling location on our website, www.recorder.pima.gov by clicking on the “Poll/Voter Info” choice and entering your current residence address. You can also call the Recorder’s Office at (520) 724-4330. The Recorder’s Office recommends that you confirm your polling place with our office rather than simply relying on a poll worker to check a street map. If you cast a ballot in the wrong polling site, your ballot is disqualified and not counted.
4. Is your voter registration record sealed? Certain voters (police officers, judges, etc) may apply to Superior Court to have their registration record sealed in order to protect them. If your record is sealed, your name cannot be listed on the poll roster. If you reside in the same house as a person who has a sealed registration record, they may have also sealed your registration record. If you wish to have the seal removed from your registration record, you must petition the Superior Court to release the seal.
5. Was the poll worker simply not able to find your name on the roster? On occasion poll workers miss a voter’s name on the roster. This is particularly true for voters with complicated names, with hyphenated names, with spaces in their names or with very common names when there is a long list of voters with the same last name on several pages of the roster. If you fall into this situation, ask the poll worker to show you the roster so that you can double check for yourself that they are looking in the correct part of the roster.
6. Are you really registered to vote? Some people attempt to vote without being registered to vote. Others completed voter registration forms as part of petition drives but the petition circulators never sent the registration form to the Recorder’s Office. Anyone who submits a new voter registration form is sent a voter notification card within 30 days after the Recorder’s Office receives that form. If you completed a form but have not received a notification card within that 30 day time period, there is a good chance that the form has not been received by the Recorder’s Office. Due to security and other issues, the Recorder’s Office recommends that you either mail your own voter registration form directly to the Recorder’s Office, that you bring it to our office or that you register to vote using the Motor Vehicle Division website, www.servicearizona.com. We never recommend that you give a completed voter registration form to a stranger who is circulating a petition.
7. Are you an independent voter attempting to vote in the Presidential Preference Election (PPE)? Under Arizona law, the Presidential Preference Election is a closed election. Only voters who are registered as members of the political party or parties participating in the PPE are permitted to vote. Therefore, anyone who is not registered as a member of that party or parties will be left off the poll roster.
How do I make certain my name is on the poll roster for the next election?
First and foremost, keep your voter registration record current. If you move, do not forget to update your voter registration record as soon as possible. Second, make certain that you go to the correct polling place for your address for this election. Finally, if you have a unique name or a common name, make certain you speak clearly to the poll workers and help them look in the roster for your name. You may want to have your current voter notification card with you since your name will be the same on that card as it is in the poll roster.
I requested an early ballot but chose to vote at the polls instead. Why was I required to vote a provisional ballot even though I surrendered my early ballot to the poll workers?
State law requires that your name be flagged on the poll roster as soon as you request an early ballot. The poll workers do not have any information to indicate whether or not you have actually returned that early ballot. Even if you bring your early ballot with you to the polling place, you could have requested a replacement ballot and voted that ballot. As a safety measure to make certain that no one is attempting to vote twice in an election, anyone who was issued an early ballot will be required to vote by provisional ballot should they appear at the polling place to vote. Once all early ballots that were received by the deadline have been verified and sent for tabulation provisional ballots will then be processed. If you did not return your early ballot, your provisional ballot will be verified and counted.
Why was I required to vote by provisional ballot merely because I changed my name, even though I did not change my address?
This is a requirement of Arizona law. Technically, this is the same situation as presenting insufficient identification since your name does not currently match your voter registration record. As soon as the election is completed, the Recorder’s Office will use the provisional ballot form to update your name on the voter registration roll.
How long does it take to process a provisional ballot?
It depends on the election and the volume of provisional ballots that were cast. In city and town elections, provisional ballots can be processed in a matter of a day or two. In the Presidential Elections where more than 20,000 provisional ballots are submitted, it can take up to ten days to complete processing all the provisional ballots. By statute, the Recorder’s Office must complete processing provisional ballots within 5 working days after most elections and within ten calendar days after the November General Election occurring in even numbered years.
How do I know that you will not just toss out my provisional ballot, particularly if the election results are not close?
State law requires that we process all provisional ballots, regardless of whether or not they can potentially alter the outcome of any election. State and federal law also requires that we provide notification to you as to whether or not your ballot counted. You were provided with a receipt containing a unique number so that you could verify for yourself whether or not your provisional ballot has been processed. In addition, the political parties and some of the candidates involved in the election monitor the Recorder’s Office activities during the processing of provisional ballots. Finally, the provisional ballots are reported separately by the Division of Elections on both their website and in the official canvass of the election. These outside checks are put in place to ensure that each and every ballot is processed and that none are simply “tossed out” solely to quickly get the election finished.
How can I find out if my provisional ballot was verified?
At the time you cast your provisional ballot, you were provided with a receipt number. Once the Recorder’s Office has completed processing all provisional ballots, we activate our provisional ballot results website. Go to www.recorder.pima.gov and click on the “Provisional Ballot Status” link. You must enter the receipt number and additional personal information. You will then be informed as to whether or not your ballot counted. If your ballot did not count, you will also be advised as to why it did not count. If you have lost your receipt number or do not have access to the internet, you can call the Recorder’s Office at 724-4330 to get the same information. The information will not be available by phone or by internet until all provisional ballots have been processed, so please wait 5 business days after most elections and 10 calendar days after General Elections occurring in even numbered years before calling or checking the website.
If I am registered to vote in another county, will my provisional ballot in Pima County be verified?
No. Under Arizona law, you must be registered to vote in the county where you are attempting to vote. While you will be permitted to vote a provisional ballot in any polling place that you go to, your ballot will not count unless you are properly registered to vote in that county and you are in the correct polling place for your residence address.
If I vote in the wrong polling place will a portion of my ballot still count anyway, particularly for President, Congress or statewide offices?
No. Under Arizona law, you may only vote in the polling place assigned to your residence address. If you vote in any other polling place, your entire ballot is disqualified.
How can I avoid voting by provisional ballot?
Plan ahead. Keep your voter registration current. Submit a new registration form anytime you change your name or address. Make certain that you have valid identification. The best form of identification at the polling place is a current Arizona driver’s license showing your current name and residence address. If you do not have a driver’s license, or have moved and did not update your address or your driver’s license is not up to date, you may want to consider voting early at a walk-in early voting location. Your record can be updated at those sites and you can then immediately vote there.
How many provisional ballots are verified and how many are rejected?
In most elections, a significant majority (approximately 70%) of the provisional ballots end up being verified and counted. The most common reasons for these ballots having been issued are voters who moved but did not update their voter registration address and voters who requested an early ballot but chose to go to the polling place instead of voting the early ballot. A fairly significant number of voters were required to vote by provisional ballot since they had insufficient identification at the polling place.
Of the ballots that are invalid, most are invalid because the voter went to the wrong polling place to vote or attempted to vote even though they were not registered to vote.
Several voters each election attempt to vote twice by marking and returning their vote by mail ballot and then attempting to vote again at the polling place.
Since their early ballot was counted, their provisional ballot is invalid and these voters are referred to law enforcement for an investigation to determine if they should be
prosecuted for attempting to vote twice.
During each Presidential Preference Election (PPE), a significant number of the provisional ballots are invalid because the voter is not registered as a member of the political party conducting the election. During the 2008 PPE, almost 40% of all provisional ballots fell into that group. The PPE is a closed election and only party members may vote in it. The second most common reason for invalid ballots in the PPE is voters going to the wrong polling place. By state law, the PPE must be conducted using only half the normal number of polling places, so many polling places are combined.
It is now several days after election day and one or more races have not yet been decided. Why is it taking so long?
Under Arizona law there are several factors that keep an election from being over on Election Day. Voters are permitted to drop off early ballots at any Pima County polling site until 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. In major elections in Pima County as many as 30,000 voters have dropped off their ballots at polling places. These ballots cannot be processed until they are delivered to the Recorder’s Office the following day.
In addition both state and federal law allow voters to cast a provisional ballot at the polling places. The Recorder’s Office receives the provisional ballots the day after Election Day and is required to research each voter’s records in order to determine the validity of the ballot. Some of the provisional ballots can take as long as 15 to 20 minutes each to resolve. During the 2012 Presidential Election more than 26,900 provisional ballots were issued to voters in Pima County. In order to make certain we are reaching the correct conclusion as to the validity of the provisional ballot, each ballot is examined by two different staff members who must agree on the result. If they do not, a third person must examine the ballot. That processing takes time to complete. State law allows five working days for most elections and ten calendar days in the November elections in even numbered years for the Recorder’s Office to complete our processing of provisional ballots. The volume of provisional ballots in major elections requires the entire 10 day time period to resolve the issues. During the provisional ballot validation process, the employees of the Recorder’s Office work extra hours to complete the process in as timely of a manner as is possible while still arriving at the correct result for each provisional ballot.
It should also be noted that the Recorder’s Office processes the dropped off early ballots and the provisional ballots even if none of the races on the ballot are still at issue after Election Day. Election results issued during the evening of Election Day are always unofficial results. They do not become official until all early ballots that were returned by the deadline and all provisional ballots have been processed.