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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What is a Provisonal Ballot?

Believe it or not, some elections officials are unfamiliar with them, but this is something you need to know.

Let's say you go to vote and learn that your name is not on the poll book. Or that you're a first time voter and elections officials won't accept your ID. Or elections officials for whatever reason, conclude you are ineligible.

You have the right to cast a provisional ballot. You have the right to do so in secrecy. You must be provided with a secrecy envelope. You must be given a receipt for your provisional ballot.

Within 7 days, elections officials must determine whether your ballot counts. Call 1-877-VOTES-PA, provide your ballot ID number, and you'll learn whether your vote counts.

Update: Why You Need to Know About Provisional Ballots

My son and his fiancee live in Osceola Mills, about thirty miles from PSU. His fiancee, Brandy, may have been disenfranchised. Here's their story.
I encountered some polling problems early this morning voting at our new precinct in Clearfield county, PA (Osceola Mills). Brandy, little Tayla, and myself all walked into the Columbia Fire Hall about 5 after 7 this morning to vote. Blasting throughout the entire hall was some right wing radio program, exactly which one I couldn’t tell as I find them impossible to hold my attention longer than a few seconds. Both Brandy and myself had received our new voter registration cards a few months ago telling us where to go and vote. The odd thing was mine said Clearfield county, and hers said Centre. Nevertheless they both had the same polling location on the card so we didn’t think anything of it. Brandy was ahead of me in line and lo and behold her name was not on their list. So they skip to me, mine was. I proceeded to vote saying they would take care of Brandy’s problem. I get back from voting and see they have done nothing to help her and basically told her sorry…NEXT. So I spoke up and said, hey she needs a provisional ballot here, which they then gave her. I also asked them for the number for the county election office, which they gladly gave. That said, it is THEIR responsibility to provide and offer a provisional ballot, we shouldn’t have to ask. And they are REQUIRED to contact the county if they encounter any of these kinds of problems, which they didn’t. I called the county, who were less than courteous when on the phone, and they proceeded to tell me that it was our fault we did not call sooner and she might as well go back to her previous polling place and vote there because that’s where she is on their list, then they hung up as I was telling them how incompetent and irresponsible they are. Well, she did do just that. On her way to teaching the 2nd grade at a local elementary school she stopped by to try and vote at they YMCA in Philipsburg, PA. Again, another problem; she wasn’t on their list either! This time the election official did call the county and found out that Brandy was now on a list 20 miles away at some church on Tyrone Pike (where???). She says fine and goes off to teach, planning on making the drive out there to vote after she gets done teaching for the day. She’s not holding her breath that her name will actually be on their list either, but hopefully it will and she’ll be able to finally vote. She did cast her provisional ballot but those don’t get counted for often 48 hrs the fact. I called back the county to “fill them in on how many things they goofed up on and how poorly my precinct is being run” and the proceeded to tell me the reason the pollers didn’t offer a provisional ballot or contact the county themselves was because they claimed the lines were too long. There were between 7 to 10 people in line when this occurred, PLEASE!

Needless to say I am pissed.

I contacted the election protection group (non-partisan) and they are sending representatives to the polling location from Harrisburg.

I contacted the democratic election headquarters who are now sending people out.

I contacted the ACLU who will be sending representation there this afternoon.

I contacted WPSU (NPR) who have followed up with me twice now and are sending a reporter to the polling location and want to talk with Brandy and myself later.

I even contacted CNN even though I only got to leave a message.

And now I’m in the middle of a letter to the editor for the Clearfield progress. They don’t know I’m an O’Hare.

Like father like son I guess.
Give 'em hell, Buddy!


Anonymous said...

Voting via a provisional ballot is the same as not voting at all.

If you run into trouble, simply do not take no for an answer. Go outside to a poll watcher and have them summon you help. A provisional ballot should only ever be a last ditch effort. It probably will not be counted.

Bernie O'Hare said...

A provisional ballot is one of the few good things to come out of HAVA. It is certainly better than being turned away. That's what happened in an election in NC just 2 years ago. A county worker was turned away because her name was not on the poll book even though she had been voting for over 20 years. She was not even told about a provisional ballot.

If your vote is not counted 7 days later, you can take that up with a judge very publicly.

I'd agree it should be the final straw, but it is there to help the voter.

Anonymous said...

Great tip to post on election day. Thank you!

dick nepon said...

I was a poll watcher in Lower Macungie, where the Judge of Elections refused provisionals to people who requested them, and told me my job was to watch, not to interact with the voters, and tried to get me thrown out of the joint. The constable refused. This Judge disenfranchised a few people, and refused to allow registered voters with cards, also on the county book, but for some reason not appearing in the local book, to machine vote. These people she made do provisional ballots.

I don't know if I was protecting R or D voters, but everyone deserves a chance to vote. The Judge told me that "she can't just give a provisional ballot to everyone who asks for it". I think she is quite wrong. That's why it is called provisional. She also told me that I could not use my phone inside, although the sign posted declared "turn off all cell phones when entering to vote" and I was not there to vote. I was there to protect voter rights.

Bernie O'Hare said...


Wow! You are absolutely right and the judge of elections is absolutely wrong. I hope you bring this up with the voting regostrar. She'll be busy the next few days, but she'll want to know about your problem.

Anonymous said...

If you are supposed to turn off your cellphone at church, would it be okay to keep it on and use it if you were not there with intentions to pray? Mangling the interpretation of the sign is oh so very clever of you, but you were not allowed to use a cellphone in the building. For whatever reason. Furthermore, it is because people break the laws to vote when they are not entitled to, or to vote several times in different districts, that the judge needs to draw lines in the sand. It is because of the severe damage that groups such as ACORN are doing that the judge must be strict. Basically, when it comes down to it, they are the judge and you are simply a (lowly) poll watcher. You are not the judge and you cannot make decisions. You do sound like a troublemaker, though, and I bet you have developed a reputation as one among the election officials. Next election show the judge some respect and a little honey will go a long way to sweeten your experience.