In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, in the wake of 2000’s deeply troubling presidential election ballot controversy. HAVA established the provisional ballot process as a fail-safe measure to ensure that voters who are not listed on the official voter roll would still have an opportunity to cast a ballot and, if determined eligible to vote, have it counted.

There are, however, serious issues with the current provisional balloting process. In examining election administration performance, provisional ballot rates may serve as a proxy for breakdowns in the electoral process, as they are used when voters face issues at the polls that preclude their casting a regular ballot. While more than 2.7 million provisional ballots were cast in 2012, more than 30 percent were either not fully counted or rejected altogether. Additionally, provisional ballot use often correlates to areas with strong community of color representation. A 2014 Center for American Progress report, “Uncounted Votes: The Racially Discriminatory Effects of Provisional Ballots,” found a statistically significant correlation across 16 states between the use of provisional ballots in the 2012 election and counties with a high percentage of minority voters.

Because of the issues with the current provisional balloting system, states with a lower provisional ballot rate in the 2008 and 2012 elections receive a higher score in this report. As with voting wait times, this analysis examines 2008 and 2012 data rather than data from 2014 because presidential election data provide a better opportunity to assess a state’s performance than the lower-turnout, midterm elections, and multiple years of data help better address any potential anomalies present in a given year.

Five states are exempt from issuing provisional ballots under HAVA: Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, as they offer same-day registration and thus avoid the Election Day issues provisional ballots are meant to mitigate; and North Dakota, which does not require voters to register before casting a ballot. They receive full credit in our scoring. Wisconsin still offers provisional ballots for voters who do not meet the identification requirement and therefore was included in the rankings.

For a more detailed explanation of each factor, including citations, please download the full report.

Click to view scoring methodology
  1. State's Performance
    Points added to score
  2. State is exempted from issuing provisional ballots under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 because it offers Election Day registration
    0 points
  3. For state ranked 1
    0 points
  4. Among states ranked 2–5
    1 points
  5. Among states ranked 6-10
    2 points
  6. Among states ranked 11-15
    3 points
  7. Among states ranked 16-20
    4 points
  8. Among states ranked 21-25
    5 points
  9. Among states ranked 26-30
    6 points
  10. Among states ranked 31-35
    7 points
  11. Among states ranked 36-40
    8 points
  12. Among states ranked 41-45
    9 points
  13. Among states ranked 46-51
    10 points
Policy Recommendation for This Factor
Provide same-day voter registration

Same-day registration creates a portable option for voters who have moved but not reregistered, and states with same-day registration available “consistently lead the nation in voter participation.” Additionally, same-day registration leads to a reduction in provisional ballot usage—and its racially discriminatory effects—as voters have the opportunity to update their registration status rather than vote provisionally. States that do not currently offer same-day registration or other policies to achieve portable registration should create this option.

Click here to see a full list of policy recommendations to improve the health of state democracies based on the findings of this report.

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