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Utah beats most states in counting provisional ballots

By Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune    27 March 2005

If you voted a provisional ballot in Utah during last year's election, it had a good chance of being counted compared to similar ballots cast in other states.
   Utah ranked 10th in the nation for counting 70 percent of the provisional ballots cast during the 2004 elections, according to Electionline.org, a nonpartisan clearinghouse for election-related information. One state, Delaware, counted only 6 percent of provisional ballots cast and 23 states counted less than half, the organization said.
   Provisional ballots are offered to voters who do not appear on registration rolls on Election Day, but who are registered to vote in that county. The ballots are not counted unless the voter's registration can be verified and a voter must be able to produce photo identification and some type of proof, such as a utility bill, that he or she lives in the precinct.
   Ohio - the November election's foremost battleground where provisional ballots appeared to matter the most - counted 78 percent of those cast, giving the state a 5th ranking nationwide.
   Utah topped the national average of 68 percent accepted, Electionline.org reported   in its March "Briefing."
   "It does speak to the attention that our county election officials are paying to make it possible so everyone who qualifies to vote can vote," said state Election Director Michael Cragun.
   November's general election was the deadline set by Congress in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) for all states to offer a provisional ballot, which officials hope would keep registration mistakes from blocking voting access. But critics feared the ballots would become the next "hanging chad" problem. Electionline.org's report says that provisional balloting was one of the "most contentious election administration issues" during and after the Nov. 2 election and prompted requests for national standards.
   Still, the report says, the ballots could be considered a success because of 1.6 million cast, nearly 1.1 million were counted.
   In Salt Lake County, election administrators added an extra judge for polling places to help ensure voters were in the right precinct. Utah law says provisional ballots cannot be counted if a voter casts the ballot in the wrong precinct where different elected positions are listed.
   County   Elections Director Julio Garcia says the extra judge helped officials count 73 percent of the provisional ballots in the county. Even so, he added, "There's still room for improvement."
   Cragun expects that when Utah launches its statewide voter registration database late this year, it will reduce the need for most Utahns to cast provisional ballots. That database also is a requirement of HAVA.

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