Suffering through suffrage: A voter’s irritating experience with provisional ballots

By Kyra Smith-Cullen
A&E Editor

November 15, 2012

Photo courtesy of

For many years of my life, I had only truly looked forward to three things: getting my driver’s license, turning 21, and voting. This year marked my first time voting. I eagerly waited in line on Election Day, only to be told that I would have to fill out a provisional ballot. It meant that, despite doing everything that was required of me to vote, something happened that made my registration not appear in the district poll book, and the election officials couldn’t determine if I was eligible to vote.

“Call that number in a week or so and you’ll be told if your vote was counted,” the woman told me as I handed her my ballot, teeming with frustration.

So there I was, having spent weeks watching the candidates and studying their platform, trying to make the most informed decision I possibly could, only to be told that my time might have been wasted. It felt like cramming for a test, telling your friends you can’t go out because of it, and then waking up the next morning to find out that the professor cancelled it. I felt like I’d been cheated, even if my vote wasn’t what finalized the ultimate result of the election.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only person this happened to. While I was filling out my ballot, there were at least four others doing the same next to me. After my experience, I did some digging to find out if other states had problems with provisional ballots.

I learned that, after each election, the Election Assistance Commission compiles a report called the Election Administration and Voting Survey, which details different aspects of each election, including the number of provisional ballots cast and how many were counted. In 2008, one out of every 40 voters used a provisional ballot. In that same election, Pennsylvania was one of the 12 states that rejected between 25 and 49 percent of provisional ballots.

I understand that no voting system is perfect, but I wish ours was a little more organized. I don’t feel like I should have to wait a week or more just to find out if my right to vote has been taken away from me.


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