Avoiding the dreaded provisional ballot

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — For long-time voters, it can be easy to take for granted the ease of voting.

While a person who hasn’t changed addresses decades will likely not fear a disruption or change to their polling location or voter registration, constantly on-the-move citizens still hoping to exercise their civic duty might face a few more minor challenges when it comes to voting.

And, in many cases, that could lead to a voter who isn’t certain their vote will be counted in the final results.

“It is different from county-to-county because each of your canvassing boards are different, made up of the County Commissioners,” Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said.

Canvassing boards make the final call on provisional ballots–and whether or not to accept them as part of the overall result. Those canvassing boards can sometimes wind up with some pretty difficult decisions (like the 2000 Florida recount), but typically their role is comparatively small.

“You also, as a voter, have the opportunity after Election Day and before canvassing to go and show, ‘I came to vote at this precinct. I voted a provisional ballot,'” Tennant said.

Provisional ballots are filled out for any number of reasons. But, commonly, the people most likely to fill out a provisional ballot are those who recently moved, late registrants, or anyone who may have had some sort of inconsistency in their registration when they tried to vote at their precinct.

“Will the canvassing board accept [your provisional ballot]?” Natalie Tennant said. “It will depend on the type of research and information the county clerk can find out about you.”

In some cases–like a mistake on the rolls or a failure to update information–voting a provisional ballot is unavoidable.

“When you go [to vote] you will have to, if you changed your address there, you’ll have to vote a provisional ballot,” Tennant said.

That applies if you change or update information at your precinct the day you vote, but if you have serious concerns about provisional ballots there are still ways to avoid them.

Additionally, if you recently moved and updated your registration–but did it online–make sure to bring a proof of address to your precinct.

“You would show a new identification,” she said. “It could be a utility bill with your name and address on it. It could be your drivers license. There are a number of different sources of identification you can show.”

Whether you moved to a new county, into West Virginia from out-of-state, or had some other change to make, the simplest solution can often be to talk with your county clerk.

“When you go vote on Election Day, it will be just the same way you voted in your old county,” Tennant said. “If you did not show identification when you registered in the new county, you just have to show an identification the first time you vote in person.”

The key, according to Secretary Tennant, is making sure you know ahead of time where you are supposed to vote.

The next step is simple: determine if any of the above changes to your registration apply to you. After that, go to your polling precinct prepared.

And remember, a poll worker can’t turn you away. When all else fails, that provisional ballot exists for a reason.

“Poll workers just have to remember,” Tennant said. “You can’t really turn a voter away.”