Provisional Ballots/Identification Documentation


Provisional ballots were first introduced by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which was enacted to make it easier for disenfranchised demographic groups to register and to vote.

Under its provisions, Ohio allowed people who were registered to vote in Ohio, and who had moved within the state, but who had not notified their Board of Elections of their new address, to vote by provisional ballot. The ballot was counted as soon as the voter’s registration was verified. Moving without notifying the Board was one of the major reasons people couldn’t vote, so this Act served to re-enfranchise tens of thousands of Ohioans.

Identification Requirements

Before 2002, Ohio never required any kind of identification documentation. Your signature was your identification, reinforced by the warning that registration or voting fraud was a serious criminal offense.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 introduced the first identification requirements. The Act states that voters must provide identification in order to register. It also provides that anyone who registers by mail must show ID the first time they show up to vote.

In 2006, House Bill 3 expanded that ID requirement to cover all voters at all elections. Every voter must now show one of a list of specific ID documents at every election:

  • Government photo ID (Ohio Driver’s license or State ID – showing either your current address or your former address, as long as the ID has not expired),
  • or one of the following that shows your current address:
    • military ID
    • copy of a current utility bill
    • bank statement
    • paycheck
    • government check
    • government document showing your name and current address (Note: You cannot use the notice you received from the Board of Elections.)

Proponents of this requirement say it will prevent voting fraud by preventing people from voting under someone else’s name or from voting multiple times. Opponents say that such fraud is extremely rare, and the ID requirement will disproportionately disenfranchise the elderly, housebound, youth, low-income and minorities, who will have difficulty obtaining the required documentation.

Provisional Ballots

Anyone who does not provide the required documentation must vote by provisional ballot. These ballots may or may not be counted, depending on whether the voter’s registration can be verified as matching any information provided on Election Day. (The voter can find out whether the vote was counted by calling a specific telephone number after Election Day, but the voter cannot contest the decision to count or not count the ballot.)

A wide variety of voters will be required to vote a provisional ballot, including anyone who changed his or her name without notifying the Board, even if the voter has not moved. (This will most likely affect primarily women who change their name upon marriage but who continue to live at the same address.)

The increase in the number of provisional ballots will cause changes in polling place and Board procedures. Each provisional ballot requires a lengthy series of forms to be completed by the poll worker and the voter. The Board of Elections must check the validity of the ID for each provisional ballot, and each ballot must be processed by hand. This may make it more difficult to process all ballots in time to complete the official canvass of votes by the newly imposed deadline.