Stand Up and Be Counted — Maybe

(Photo: Justin Grimes; EDITED: LW / TO)Provisional ballots, meant to ensure every voter gets access to the ballot, are often tossed out. (Photo: Justin Grimes; EDITED: LW / TO)

It took Nick Alati half a day to cast a ballot in Arizona’s August primary — and his vote didn’t even count.

A self-employed home inspector in suburban Phoenix, Alati had moved recently. He tried to update his registration information, but never received a new voters card. On primary day, he went to the precinct in his old neighborhood, but poll workers turned him away, sending him to another spot. That precinct, not finding him in the rolls, sent him right back.

Back at the first precinct, poll workers allowed him to fill out a provisional ballot. Under federal law, no one who wants to vote can just be turned away: Instead, people are allowed to vote provisionally when there are questions about their eligibility, though some of these ballots are discarded for a variety of reasons.

Alati went ahead and filled out the form, even though he suspected his vote might be tossed. Still, when I told him his vote indeed had been disallowed because he’d voted in the wrong places, Alati said it was upsetting.

“I tried very hard to be registered,” said Alati, calling the back-and-forth between polling places a “pain in the butt” and “time off without pay.”

“I’m not getting paid to go vote, it’s my job as a citizen of the United States,” he said.

State-to-state differences in the handling of provisional ballots can end up leaving people like Alati disenfranchised.

Alati was one of 3,330 people in Maricopa County who voted with a provisional ballot in the August primaries. Some 1,300 of these votes were discarded, more than half for the same reason as his was. At the time, poll workers weren’t allowed to warn voters that provisional ballots cast in the wrong location would be wasted, said Elizabeth Bartholomew, communications director for the Maricopa County Elections Department.

“We didn’t want to leave it up to poll workers to say that their ballot…

Read more