Press Release ● Human and Civil Rights
For Immediate Release: 
September 17, 2004
Contact Info: 
Stacey Farnen Bernards

WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) asked the Governors of all 50 states in a letter sent today to recognize and honor provisional ballots in the upcoming November election in order to protect voters’ rights from administrative or technical error.  Provisional ballots are a crucial part of the landmark election reform legislation the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), of which Hoyer was the lead House Democratic sponsor: 

The full text of letter is below:

September 17, 2004

Dear Governor ---:

I am writing you to call to your attention an important issue concerning the upcoming November election.

As a lead cosponsor of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), which to date has provided $3 billion to states to implement a wide range of election reforms required under the act, I want to direct your attention to a key provision in HAVA that requires voters to be allowed to vote using provisional ballots if their eligibility is in question when they show up at the polls.  Following the election, local election officials determine whether the voter was entitled to vote and then count the ballots of those voters who are determined to have been eligible.

Provisional ballots are a crucial reform.  As was demonstrated in 2000, in many parts of the country, registration and administrative errors that are not the fault of voters often cause eligible voters to be turned away at the polls.  Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that some states are refusing to count provisional ballots of eligible voters that are cast in the “wrong” polling place. 

The better course is to count those ballots for all the races in which the voter is entitled to vote.  Most states do so in recognition of the fact that a voter is often in the “wrong” precinct because of election official error.  Voters can be wrongly assigned or can be misdirected to a polling place. 

Whether it is the result of voter misunderstanding or official mistake, qualified voters should not be denied the right to vote because they happen to appear in the wrong precinct.

The intention of HAVA is that errors in a state’s election system should not prevent eligible voters from voting.  I urge you and your chief elections officer to review your state’s provisional ballot regulations to ensure that your state is doing everything it can to ensure that provisional ballots facilitate voting, not frustrate it.

With kindest regards, I am

Sincerely yours,