Since requests for an absentee ballot had to be in by October 27 and my family emergency happened on October 30, I had to use another method.
I voted using a provisional ballot.There isn’t much information on provisional ballots on the Missouri Secretary of State’s web site. So I’ll relay my experience.
First of all, let me say I like provisional ballots. I hope I’m in the minority on this, but in my young life, I’ve needed them twice. Sure, many times when you’re gone on election day, you know in advance and can get a request for an absentee ballot in. That doesn’t always happen. I didn’t get to vote in 1994 because of a sudden death in the family two days before election day. The same thing happened this year.
In 1994, there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. In 2004, there was.
To vote provisionally, you simply go to the local polling place where you happen to be, and ask an election judge for a provisional ballot. Be prepared for the judge to not know how to handle the situation and to collect all sorts of information about you. He wanted my name, address, last four digits of my social security number, driver’s license number, and date of birth. I showed him my driver’s license as identification. My girlfriend didn’t have hers, but I happened to have some of her mail in my car, including a utility bill. She used that as ID, and the judge accepted that as well, as the secretary of state’s office said he would. He also wanted to know why I wanted to vote using a provisional ballot. He then called the county courthouse, and came back a few minutes later with two provisional ballots.
He said we got there just in time because they only had two left. So get there early.
The second thing to know about provisional ballots is they will only be counted in the case of close elections. Chances are our ballots were never counted.
The third thing to know is that the provisional ballot doesn’t have a lot on it. I was able to vote for president, governor, lt. governor, state senator, the local U.S. representative, and a statewide initiative. I was not able to vote for my representative (as it turned out, he was the candidate who probably needed my vote the most) or anyone in the Missouri senate or house. I probably could have voted for that district’s U.S. representative, but I left that blank. I didn’t feel like I should be voting in another district’s race. I don’t know if the vote would have counted or not.
With the ballot, you have to fill out an envelope that asks for more information, such as when you registered to vote and where, as well as other information that hopefully is known by nobody else other than you. You sign under penalty of perjury. Not knowing the exact date I registered, or whether it was at the Cliff Cave or Tesson Ferry branch of the St. Louis County Library, I wrote down what I could remember.
I definitely see holes in this system but I see holes in the rest of the system as well and don’t see that provisional ballots make them much easier to exploit, provided someone actually checks out the information written on that envelope. In St. Louis County, it’s harder to get a library card than it is to register to vote.
Provisional ballots or no, if someone can go to the library with convincing evidence that I have moved, he can register as me and steal my vote. Likewise, if someone shows up at my polling place and manages to convince an election judge that he is me, he can steal my vote. To me, those are bigger holes in the system than the provisional ballot.