For some, votes still cast on paper

Provisional ballots

Maryland Votes 2006 -- The Primary Election

September 13, 2006|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN REPORTER

Thousands of Marylanders who had expected to be voting on the new electronic machines yesterday instead found themselves casting "provisional" paper ballots because of questions over voter eligibility and polls that were ordered to stay open past 8 p.m.

Here are some answers to questions about provisional ballots: What is a provisional ballot?

A provisional ballot is generally issued when a voter's eligibility is in question. It is kept separate from other results so that a determination about whether that ballot is counted can be made at a later date.

Why were they used in large numbers in Montgomery County and Baltimore City?

In Montgomery County, cards used to start up the machines were not delivered on time, and in Baltimore, some poll workers did not show up on time. Many provisional ballots were issued to inconvenienced voters.

In addition, both areas extended their poll hours until 9 p.m. Any votes cast in that extra hour were done on a provisional ballot, as required by state law. Does that mean their legality may be contested?

Not necessarily. The people who used provisional ballots because they voted during the extended poll time will have their ballots kept separate - and receive less scrutiny - from the ones cast by voters whose eligibility was questioned and must be sorted out. What do provisional ballots look like?

They are paper ballots on which voters make selections by filling in circles next to the candidate's name with a pencil. The ballots are tallied by an optical-scan machine.

When will they be counted?

Local election boards are scheduled to begin counting them on Monday. But before any vote is counted, local election officials must determine whether the provisional voter was eligible to vote. How long will it take to get results?

Counting provisional ballots is a slow process. Election officials must scrutinize each ballot, and the process can take days. How many provisional ballots were issued yesterday?

Officials were unable to say last night.

In Montgomery County alone, the number is expected to be in the thousands.

Statewide, in the 2004 general election, 48,000 provisional ballots were cast. Of those, 23,000 were accepted in full and 8,000 in part; 17,000 were rejected. Of the 17,000 rejected ballots, 14,000 were completed by someone who was not a registered voter. How will the ballots be kept secure?

Completed provisional ballots are kept in bags that are locked and transported to local election headquarters, where they are kept in a safe. Two election judges - one Democrat and one Republican - are supposed to transport the bags.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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