The Havoc of Vote Suppression Using Provisional Ballots

Voting Rights

New Orleans   In trying to suppress citizen rights to vote the use of provisional ballots are a sop thrown to the disappointed voter largely to pretend that their votes will count.  This fiction is starting to fall on hard times.

In the elections being reported in Kenya’s national elections where millions waited in mile-long lines for hours to vote, there are reportedly over 300,000 provisional ballots now, endangering the entire election.  In Baton Rouge, Louisiana a state district court judge overturned a vote on tolls across the Mississippi River in New Orleans based on the fact that 1000 provisional votes were not allowed to be counted – or cast – in the election.  What’s up with all of this?

In the United States under Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, an American citizen can show up anywhere in the country on election day and demand the right to vote and cast a ballot, which is to say, a provisional ballot, in the federal election.  The ballots are not counted unless determinate in which case there would be a investigation on the status of the voter.

The same thing exists locally in Louisiana and many other states.  If a voter presents themselves without an ID, they are allowed to vote by provisional ballot.  The ballot is not opened unless the outcome would not be clear without the ballots.  In Louisiana a voter without a governmental ID can also vote by signing an affidavit saying they are who they claim to be an offering some form of identification, like their mother’s name or whatever.  In this case the signed affidavit is filed away, and the voter is allowed into the booth, so their vote is cast with all others on all races.

The toll vote in New Orleans only allowed New Orleans voters to be polled on whether or not to continue a more than 20 year old one dollar bridge toll on the Crescent Connect, the giant bridge joining the West and East banks of the city.   With 300,000 votes cast voters seeking to maintain the tolls won by 36 votes despite numerous recounts.  The judge held that since there were 1000 provisional ballots in Orleans Parish where voters were not allowed to vote on local or state races this was a form of voter disenfranchisement serious enough to void the results of the election and require a recount.  These 1000 voters were determined to have been legally registered and voting appropriately but for whatever reason pushed onto provisional ballots.

The merits around the tolls are neither here nor there, though there is some irony in the small Republican enclave on the West Bank that wanted the tolls eliminated being hoisted on their own petard.  The real issue here is that voter suppression whether in the US or Kenya is big time trouble and whether an election hinges in the balance or not, it all adds up to disenfranchisement.  This may have been a state court decision here in the backwaters of Louisiana, but it has an echo that should be heard across the country.