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Elections Defined: Voting With Provisional Ballots

Provisional ballots are kept sealed and separated from other ballots until officials can investigate.

By Wendy Underhill  |  June 20, 2024

Elections Defined Video Series

This series of short videos features NCSL Director of Elections and Redistricting Wendy Underhill talking about some of the key steps of election administration you may not have heard of—from ballot curing to voter list maintenance to what it means to be a poll worker, and everything in between. View the complete series. 

What if a voter is absolutely certain they registered to vote, but when they show up at a polling place, their name isn’t on the rolls? That’s bad for the voter. Federal law, though, requires that these voters be given a fail-safe option. That is, they can vote on a provisional ballot that is kept sealed and separated from other ballots with their voter information on the outside envelope.

After Election Day, officials can investigate: Was a mistake made? Can they confirm the voter is indeed eligible to vote?

In some states, that same provisional ballot can be used when a voter doesn’t bring a required ID. They can vote provisionally and come back and fix that problem later. Either way, provisional ballots help ensure that all eligible citizens can have their voices heard.

Ready for more election administration answers? View the complete series for info on the topics below. Still have questions? More details can be found on these and other topics through NCSL’s election resources.

  • Ballot Duplication.
  • Ballot Collecting.
  • Ballot Curing. 
  • Provisional Ballots.
  • Pre-Processing Ballots.
  • Poll workers vs. Poll Watchers.
  • Post-election Audits.
  • Canvassing and Certification.
  • Results Reporting.
  • Voter ID.
  • Voter Registration List Maintenance.
  • Contact NCSL

  • For more information on this topic, use this form to reach NCSL staff.