Maryland primary election: What is a provisional ballot?

Thousands of Marylanders will have to cast their votes through provisional ballots in Tuesday’s primary election.

The reason? A computer glitch at the Motor Vehicle Administration that began in April 2017 means that some voters who used MVA kiosks to change their information didn’t have their updated information sent to the Board of Elections.

Are you forced to cast a provisional ballot? Tell us about it »

“Voting in the Western world is supposed to be advanced, but there’s always glitches,” said Maryland attorney Charles Chester, who was lead counsel in one of two "butterfly ballot" cases that reached the Florida Supreme Court after the 2000 presidential election.

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.

Have this many provisional ballots been used in an election before?

In the 2004 general election, 48,000 provisional ballots were cast in Maryland — mostly in Baltimore City and Montgomery County. 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 people who were not registered to vote.

In the 2006 statewide primary, thousands of voters cast provisional ballots because of problems with electronic voting machines.

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.

Do I need to bring identification to cast my vote with a provisional ballot?

Typically, voters do not need to have identification to cast a provisional ballot. However, voters who have been affected by the MVA computer glitch will likely need to present ID at their polling places, since their information is not on the record. Identification can include a driver’s license, MVA ID card, passport, student ID, military card or employee ID card, or else a copy of a recent utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows your name and address. You may be able to find your voter registration record here.

When will the provisional ballots be counted?

By law, local election boards are scheduled to begin counting them around July 5.

How long will it take to get results?

Counting provisional ballots is a slow process. Election officials won’t likely know how many provisional ballots have been cast until Friday after the election. Then, they must scrutinize each ballot, and the process can take days. Bottom line? “It’ll be delayed,” Chester said. Voting officials will have to “retroactively prove that they voted in the right place.”

How big of a deal is this?

It depends on how close an individual race is, Chester said. “What its impact could be statewide could be significant or it could be nominal.” He predicts it will have a bigger impact in local races than in statewide elections. “There’s a lot of people running in a lot of races for a lot of offices this year,” he said.

How will the ballots be kept secure?

In the past, completed provisional ballots have been 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.

What can I do if I run into problems?

Trained poll workers will be on location at polling sites to help voters cast their provisional ballots. Marylanders can also contact the State Board of Elections at 1-800-222-8683 from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. or email info.SBE@maryland.gov.

Another option is to call your local board of elections:

Baltimore City: 410-396-5550

Baltimore County: 410-887-5700

Howard County: 410-313-5820

Anne Arundel County: 410-222-6600

Carroll County: 410-386-2080

Harford County: 410-638-3565

ctkacik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/xtinatkacik

Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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