I've been geeking-out a bit lately on provisionals. According to a policy paper published in 2010 by the ACLU of Arizona entitled Uncounted Votes: How Arizona Law Impacts Provisional Ballots, one in 14 Maricopa County voters, 99,826 in all, cast provisional ballots in the 2008 presidential election.
The report indicates that voting provisionally is, "an option guaranteed in the Help America Vote Act of 2002...meant to help voters who arrive at the polls and are not on the list of registered voters."
Unfortunately, the ACLU found that more than 30 percent of those provisionals were tossed for one of four reasons:
"(1) the voter did not have proper identification; (2) the voter was ineligible to vote; (3) the voter provided incomplete information; or (4) the voter was in the wrong polling place."
In Maricopa County, the report indicates that of those 99,826 ballots, 29,531 were rejected, or nearly 30 percent. The number one reason? Ballots being cast in the wrong precinct.
The ACLU faults an Arizona law, ARS 16-584B, requiring that provisional ballots be cast in the precinct where the voter resides. Several other states have similar laws, according to the report.
The effect of the statute, according to the ACLU, is the disenfranchisement of citizens eligible to vote, but whose provisional ballot mistakenly was cast in the wrong precinct.
Someone could be affected if they've moved or if their precinct changes for another reason. Also, poorly trained poll workers may not direct them to their new precinct.
"Voters who show up at their old precinct may encounter difficulties in determining their correct precinct," reads the report, "and poll workers may find it easier to simply give the person a provisional ballot without realizing that the elector will be disfranchised as a result."
The ACLU also observes that, "poor people, and consequently, minority communities, are more likely to move than the non-Hispanic White population, and that the majority of moves among Blacks and Latinos are within their present county of residence."
The report quotes University of Iowa Professor Douglas W. Jones, a computer scientist whose expertise is electronic voting, as stating that provisional ballots, when misused, can "become a way to brush off troublesome voters by letting them think they have voted."
Similarly, Arizona's law requiring photo ID at the polls also has the effect of discouraging citizens from voting. For that requirement, one of the strictest in the nation, we can thank Prop 200, passed in 2004, which was placed on the ballot through the efforts of nativists such as recalled, former state Senate President Russell Pearce.
If the numbers from county elections and this report are accurate, there was a 15 percent increase in provisional votes cast in Maricopa County in this election.
Ann Wallack, chair of the Maricopa Democratic Party, has been monitoring the election along with other Democratic party officials.
I asked her if redistricting and district consolidation might have caused an increase in the provisionals, as the number of county voting precincts went from more than 1,000 to a little over 700 in 2011.