Does Your Provisional Ballot Really Count?

A box of provisional ballots in Alameda CountyEXPAND
A box of provisional ballots in Alameda County

So you went to your polling place, nervous, excited. You had your cheat sheet in one hand, your Starbucks in the other. Even waiting in line was a veritable pleasure. You got to the front, told the lady your name, she moved her ruler down the list with a practiced grace ... and you weren't on the list. You had no choice; you had to vote provisionally.

Does your vote even count?

As a matter of fact, it does. It's just counted a lot more slowly.

"If they are verified successfully, they get counted just as a normal ballot would," says Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder.

Provisional ballots have been around in California since 1984. They're designed for voters who show up at the wrong voting place, are mistakenly left off the voter roll or are registered to vote by mail but forget to mail in their ballots.

To guard against voter fraud, provisional ballots are carefully checked, to verify the voter is registered to vote and isn't trying to vote more than once. (If you forgot to register to vote, then no, your provisional ballot won't count.)

In the June primary, more than 240,000 voters in L.A. County cast provisional ballots. Many of them were registered to vote by mail but showed up at their polling place anyway.

If you got your ballot in the mail and forgot to mail it in, you can still fill it out and bring it to your polling place. It will then be counted the same as any other ballot. If you show up without your ballot, though, you'll have to vote provisionally.

Even if you know you're voting provisionally, it's still best to show up to the polling place where you're registered to vote. If you do vote at the wrong precinct, your vote for national and statewide races will still count (assuming you've voted in the correct county, and if you missed the mark by that much, well, we can't help you). However, your votes for local and state legislative races may be thrown out if you've voted, say, in the wrong state assembly district or the wrong city.

Lastly, you can check on the status of your provisional ballot — whether or not it's been counted — by calling this phone number: (800) 815-2666. It takes about four weeks for all the provisional ballots to be verified and counted.

Now go vote!


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