Primary Election Provisional Ballots Still to be Counted

LITTLE ROCK, AR -- Approximately 336,000 Arkansans cast their ballots in the primary election on Tuesday. But some of those ballots haven't been counted.

Voters fill out provisional ballots when the poll worker can't determine a voter's eligibility.

"It's really a fail-safe," said Secretary of State spokesperson Laura Labay. "Voters need to know that they should always be able to cast a provisional ballot at the polls, so it can be determined if they're eligible. They shouldn't be turned away."

While the Secretary of State's list of provisional ballot counts by county appears incomplete, Pulaski County currently leads the list with 79 provisional ballots out of roughly 40,000 total votes cast. About 30 percent of those, a failure to meet the proof of identity requirement. The total number reported statewide is 178.

It was Bryan Poe's job to sort through pouch after pouch of provisional ballots. As Pulaski County Election Commission's Director of Elections, he wants to make sure every vote is counted that can be.

"This process is to make sure we're not turning away someone from the polls who is otherwise eligible to vote," he said.

There are several reasons someone could cast a provisional ballot: registration problems, requesting an absentee ballot but then showing up at the polls and, in this election, Voter I.D.

"For instance this one right here and that one right there," Poe said, referencing provisional ballots. "Both are cause of Voter I.D."

Provisional ballots are reviewed by the county clerk to determine eligibility. If it's a case of identification or lack thereof, the voter will be notified. He or she will have until noon on Monday, May 26, to provide proof of identity or sign an affidavit attesting financial burden or objection on religious grounds.

"There are probably a few more [provisional ballots] than there would be otherwise," Poe said of the number of provisional ballots this year.

But, according to Poe, the number of provisional ballots seems to be within what's expected for Pulaski County with a 40,000 voter turnout.

"This is a system with a lot of moving parts. We had more than 800 poll workers at 1,400 locations," he said. "And some of it is just about education and it becoming habit for the voter."

The Secretary of State's spokesperson, said the office is not aware of any formal Voter I.D. complaints or an increase in provisional ballots by county. But, it might be hard to compare to years past.

"We [the Secretary of State's office] don't track that, because we don't retain provisional ballot numbers," Labay said. "Once a provisional ballot is counted, it's counted."

According to the office's numbers, Mississippi County had the second largest provisional ballot count at 50.

"Whenever I was made aware of that number, it did seem kind of exceptional," Poe said of his initial reaction to that figure. "We [Pulaski County] only had 79 in our county, and we probably had quite a few more people vote than in Mississippi County."

According to the election summary, Mississippi County had 4,000 votes cast, or roughly 10 percent of the Pulaski County total. We reached out to the Mississippi County Election Commission to see the reasons so many provisional ballots were recorded. We're awaiting a phone call from the Election Commission Chair.

Tracking the final tally of which provisional votes will end up in the proverbial pot across the state won't come until mid-day Monday, at the soonest. Many of these vote totals haven't been certified. The Pulaski County Election Commission is slated to meet at noon on Thursday for a preliminary review of the provisional ballots.

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