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Government and Politics

Provisional ballots could cause problems with the presidential race
The time restraints for counting provisional ballots could cause a hang up for the presidential election
This story is part of a special series.

Jo Ingles

About 1.4 million Ohioans have requested absentee ballots by mail but so far, only 618 thousand of those ballots have been returned to boards of elections. If, for some reason, these voters decide to go to the polls to vote in person instead, they will have to vote provisional ballots. And that could pose a problem….especially if the presidential race in Ohio is as tight as some experts think it could be. In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, Matt McClelland of the Ohio Secretary of State’s office explains he doesn’t know, at this point, how many provisional ballots could be cast.

McClelland on provisional ballots

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“That’s a number we will likely have on Election Night once we get the unofficial results in. Counties will report to us on how many provisional ballots there are. Look, there are no new rules here when it comes to provisional ballots. These are the same rules that have been in place for years and were in place for the last presidential and the Secretary of State’s office is confident that the election process is going to run pretty smoothly.”

“But if there are a lot of provisional ballots, my understanding is that those ballots cannot be counted right away. You have to wait a couple of weeks, right?”

“That’s correct. Under Ohio law, boards of elections cannot begin counting provisional ballots until the 11th day after the election. And the reason for that is to provide voters with an opportunity to bring in a proper form of id to verify their identity because in most cases, the reason a voter has had to cast a provisional ballot is because they moved, they didn’t bring the right id with them and that window is to give voters an opportunity to confirm their id with their board of elections. Boards, however, can begin in that 10 day window to begin sorting and organizing the ballots. They cannot begin counting them until that 11th day after the election.”

“But if this is a close election as many people are expecting it to be and if there are a lot of provisional ballots out there, this could hang up the presidency for weeks, right?”

“Well we are not going to know how close it is going to be until Election night. And beyond that, we have a process in place for both handling absentee ballots and provisional ballots. We will follow that process. And at the end of the day, we are going to insure all of the votes have been cast and we have an accurate number on the election results for the 2012 election.”

“What happens though…is there a way that you can shorten that time period to count the provisional ballots if we have a presidency out there…not knowing what’s happening?”

“The law is very clear. You have to give that 10 day window after election day and boards cannot begin counting those provisional ballots until 11 days after the election.”

McClelland says Ohio lawmakers could theoretically quickly pass legislation to change the counting process for provisional ballots but lawmakers are not in session now. It doesn’t look likely that will happen.

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