News Release: Faculty Experts, Law, Politics

Nov. 3,  2008

Provisional Ballots Could Complicate Ga. Voting

Voting in Georgia may take the national spotlight this year because a close senate race will invite scrutiny of whose vote gets counted, says election law expert Michael Kang of Emory Law.

Voters who think they're registered but arrive at the polls to find their voting status questioned "must be allowed to vote, but may be forced to cast a provisional or challenged ballot that might not be counted in the end," says Kang. "In a close race like Tuesday's senate election, these questions loom larger and invite more attention as the candidates fight over every vote."

Other factors complicating the results could be extremely long lines of voters, overwhelmed poll workers, and administrative or clerical errors, all of which can complicate the election process in practice, he says.

"Provisional ballots offer opportunities for parties to contest the election because they are counted after regular ballots are cast," says Kang. "It's then up to the registrar to determine which provisional ballots get counted."

A related issue not unique to Georgia is registered voters whose eligibility is challenged. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 "requires states to coordinate voter records with their state driver's license records and  the records of the Social Security Administration, but the law is a bit unclear  about whether states should rely on mismatching data as a basis for disqualifying registered voters, particularly so close to the election," says Kang.

Last week a federal district court ruled that Georgia voters whose information doesn't match their DMV or SSA records might be required to cast a challenged ballot in Georgia. "A mismatch between state records doesn't mean those voters are necessarily ineligible," says Kang. "It may well be that most of these mismatches are the result of typographical errors."

But the fact that these votes would be evaluated for eligibility in a special review after the election "opens the opportunity for the loser to question the election result and whether certain provisional votes should have been counted."

Kang, whose research focuses on voting rights, race, redistricting, campaign finance and direct democracy, also holds a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University.

Additional Election Experts 

Election Night Countdown: Emory Experts Available


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