What is a provisional ballot, anyway?

George Takei tweet about provisional ballots

I don’t know what your Facebook and Twitter feeds have looked like for the past couple of days, but this tweet from George Takei has been all over mine. If you’re looking at this on a tiny screen or can’t read the print, it says “If you are turned away at the polls because your name is not on the register, don’t walk away. Say this: I REQUEST A PROVISIONAL BALLOT AS REQUIRED BY LAW. Don’t let them steal your vote.”

So you might be wondering, “What is a provisional ballot? Do I need one? Is this good advice?”. Well, wonder no more, my friends. Let’s talk about it.

What is a provisional ballot? It’s a ballot that somebody needs more information about in order to decide whether or not it ought to count. Provisional ballots are generally held aside from the general stack of completed ballots, and some election official has to come in and review them later.

You might vote on a provisional ballot if the poll workers can’t find you in the voter rolls. Or, if you live in a state (like KS and MO) where the law specifies what kind of ID you have to have in order to vote, and you don’t have an ID with you that’s on that list. Or, if you are registered to vote, but you’re supposed to vote in some polling place other than the one you’re at. Or, in Kansas, if the address on your ID doesn’t match the address in the registration system. Or, if there’s some possibility that you might have already voted advance or absentee and might be trying to vote again. Basically, if there’s any question about whether or not you’re really eligible to cast this particular vote, you can request or be given a provisional ballot.

Is that a good idea? Well, usually. It’s certainly better than just giving up and leaving the polls. I can’t tell you whether any particular provisional vote will actually be counted or not. That’s always going to be up to the folks running the election. But here are some things to think about:

  • If the reason you are voting provisionally is that the poll workers can’t find your registration, it’s possible that they’re not able to see the whole list of registered voters for some reason, and somebody with better data access at the election board or office will be able to validate your vote.
  • Even if you really have been removed from the rolls for some reason, properly or improperly (all states purge voters if the voter is inactive for a long enough period of time, and lots of states have opted to purge voters for other reasons this year), casting a provisional ballot can’t hurt. Your ballot creates a record. That record may become important if there is a legal challenge to the election process or results.
  • If the reason you are voting provisionally is that there’s some issue with your ID, and you have a valid form of identification somewhere else, what happens next depends on your state. In Missouri, you can come back to the poll with a valid ID and pull your ballot out of provisional status right there. In Kansas, you will need to contact the election office after the polls close. Ask a poll worker how and when to do that – it varies by county.
  • But: If the reason that you are voting provisionally is that you are in the wrong polling place, and you can get to the right polling place before the polls close – maybe don’t bother with the provisional vote and just go over to the other poll. That way you can be sure your vote will be counted. This varies a little by state. In Kansas, if you have moved in the 30 days before the election, you can still vote at your old polling place. Missouri wants you to change your address with the poll worker at your old polling place, and then go to the new one.

Okay, so I cast a provisional ballot – now what? In both Missouri and Kansas, you should get some sort of ballot stub or receipt for your provisional ballot. Hold on to that thing. In Kansas, you should also get instructions on how to follow up with the election office. If the poll worker helping you with your ballot doesn’t volunteer that information – ask them! In Missouri, once you’ve cast the provisional ballot, there’s not much you can do to change its fate immediately (unless you needed a valid ID and went back to the polls with one). You can, however, find out what happened to your ballot by calling the Secretary of State’s office at 866-868-3245, at least 14 days after the election.

Kansas Advance Voting Starts Tomorrow

As a Missourian, if there’s anything I’m willing to admit to being envious of Kansas about, it’s the advance voting system. Seriously, Missouri, we should get us one of those. Let’s talk. But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is that if you are fortunate enough to be a Kansas voter, you can vote early by mail starting tomorrow, or in person starting October 22 or 23, depending on your county.

To vote by mail, you have to have a ballot. To get a ballot, you have to ask your county election office for one. (Here’s a handy link to the application for Johnson and Wyandotte county voters.) Fill that bad boy out, print it, and mail it in to the election office. They’ll mail you a ballot. Mark your ballot, seal it up, make sure you fill out all the important stuff on the outside of your ballot envelope, and mail it back before election day. No standing in lines on election day, very easy, very nice. Folks with disabilities or chronic illness who are regularly going to be prevented from going to the polls by their health can apply to always get a ballot mailed to them without needing to request one every time. Everybody else has to request a ballot for each election they want to vote by mail.

If you prefer to vote in person, but still want to get it out of the way before election day, you can do that starting next week. Johnson County has six early voting sites – check the location and hours before you go. Wyandotte County hasn’t posted their locations or schedules yet, but I’ll keep looking and share them with you when I find them. If you’re in another county, check your county’s election office website for details.

Happy voting, Kansan friends!

It’s a big ballot: Make a plan

I’ve been out of town a few weeks, partially because I was attending a conference on election reform. We’re definitely gonna talk about that later, but there’s some more pressing business I want to talk about first. Practically the first thing I did when I got home was attend my poll worker election update class, where I learned two important things about this November’s election in KCMO:

  1. There are between 39 and 42 items on the ballot in November, depending on where you live. We’ve got a Senate seat, a House seat, the state Auditor, state Representatives, the County Executive, Jackson County legislators, about eighty million judges, and a veritable buffet table of constitutional amendments, state and local measures, and some of us get a question about our library district. This ballot is a monster. AND THEN:
  2. A lot of that stuff is really important to people. Aside from whatever effect all those candidates might have on your life if elected, this election is going to decide whether or not to raise the minimum wage in Missouri, whether or not (and how) Missouri adopts a medical marijuana program, how much you’ll be taxed for gas, how easy it is to get a bingo game going for money, and all that business about ethics, lobbying, and redistricting that’s packed into Amendment 1. So: money, drugs, ethics, bingo — no matter who you are, you probably care about at least one of those things. And then, there’s this whole thing where maybe the Senate flips to Democratic control, maybe it doesn’t — exciting stuff. What does that mean? Big voter turnout. A little bird told me that the election board is expecting 70% voter turnout. That’s A LOT. For context, back when we had the Presidential election in 2016 (you probably remember it, it was kind of a big deal), KCMO turnout was just under 58%. In November 2014, the last midterm election, KCMO posted about 25% turnout.

So, kids. Big ballot + big turnout. That’s going to add up to long lines at the polls. Let’s be smart, and be prepared. We here at the Cow have some recommendations on how to make this as easy as possible:

  1. Vote absentee if you can. Unlike our neighbor to the west, Missouri doesn’t really go in for early voting, and we’re fairly restrictive about who can vote absentee. But if you can manage to fit yourself into one of those qualifying groups, it might be worth your trouble to request an absentee ballot.
  2. If you can’t vote absentee (most of us can’t), know what you’re voting on when you get to your polling place on election day. You can get a sample ballot from the election board, and read through everything that’s up for a vote. Take some time, think this one through before you show up to the polls. Maybe go ahead and mark your choices on your sample ballot, and take it with you. Or you can use a site like BallotReady to review the ballot and print or email your picks. Then you’re not meeting anything on the ballot for the first time when you go to vote – you’ve already spent the time to think it over, and it’s gonna get you out of the poll much faster.
  3. Know where you’re going. Before you head out, find your polling place. Make sure it’s the place you think it is.
  4. Know your rights as a voter. Here are two that are especially relevant to making sure you actually get to cast a vote:
    • Polls open at 6 a.m., and close at 7 p.m. on election day. If you are in line at 7 p.m., you get to vote. Don’t go home just because the polling day is over.
    • If you work in Missouri, and you are scheduled to work on election day in such a way that your schedule doesn’t give you three consecutive hours off while the polls are open, you have the right to take up to three hours off during the day to vote. The catch is that you have to request the time off in advance, however your employer usually wants requests made, and your employer can specify which three hours you can have off. This is even supposed to be paid time off, provided that you actually use it to vote.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be talking about some of the issues on the ballot, some of the positions up for grabs and what they do, and other useful information about your rights as a voter and what to do if somebody doesn’t seem to want to let you use them. There’s a lot going on, but hang on, folks, we’re gonna get through this. Until next time, happy election season.

It’s my new favorite holiday!

National Voter Registration Day logo September 25, 2018

Today is National Voter Registration Day, my new favorite holiday. If you’re not registered, now’s a great time to take a moment to get signed up. Or, if you’ve moved or changed your name since the last time you voted, update your registration. Or, just check to make sure you’re still on the voter rolls. Missouri and Kansas both drop “inactive” voters, and I heard a lot of folks who signed up to vote at the Kansas DMV say that the state didn’t have any record of their enrollments. So let’s just take a minute, be sure you’re on the list. Here are some handy links – if you need to update your name or address, use the “register” links:

Register to vote in Missouri. 

Register to vote in Kansas.

Check your registration in Kansas.

I’d like to give you the link to check your registration in Missouri, but hey, that page (https://s1.sos.mo.gov/elections/voterlookup/) seems to not be available at the moment. I’m sure that’s just a thing that happened to happen, and has no greater meaning, right? Anyway, watch this space and I’ll holler when it comes back online.


“Clean Missouri” back on the ballot

Maybe I’m just paying more attention than usual to the ballot process for November’s election, but it seems like November’s crop of proposed amendments and legislative issues is a little more dramatic than usual. We’ve got two competing amendments looking to legalize medical marijuana in entirely different ways, we’ve got an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage coming up after the state ruled that cities have no business raising their own minimum wage, and then there’s the courtroom drama. Amendment 1,  the Lobbying, Campaign Finance, and Redistricting Initiative, (better known as Clean Missouri) just survived a major court challenge and is back on the ballot after a circuit judge ordered it off the ballot last week.

What’s the trouble with Amendment 1? Opponents say it’s poorly written and tries to make too many unrelated changes at once. Supporters say opponents are afraid of the reforms it will require. Let’s break it down.

Amendment 1 has four main ideas:

  1. Legislative transparency – Under this amendment, all legislative records would be classed as “public records”, including records of legislative proceedings and votes. Members of the public would also be guaranteed the right to record legislative meetings, so long as they weren’t being disruptive. Missouri currently has a Sunshine Law, but it’s a state statute, not a constitutional provision.
  2. Redistricting – Amendment 1 would make major changes to the way that state legislative districts are drawn. That might not sound very exciting, but it could have a huge effect on state government and who represents you. Right now, legislative districts are drawn by committees of the state legislature, and approved by the governor. This means that current state lawmakers have some freedom to set up districts in a way that gives them the best chance of re-election. Amendment 1 would create a non-partisan position, state demographer, and require the person in that position to draw districts that promote competition between the parties. The amendment also includes some ideas about how to use math to check whether a district is fair and competitive or not. (Your humble correspondent is a HUGE NERD about redistricting, but I don’t want to get too into the mathematics of it here. That’s another post for another day.)
  3. Lobbying – The proposed Amendment would require anybody who serves as a legislator or a legislative employee to wait two years before becoming a paid lobbyist, or even looking for a job as a paid lobbyist. The Amendment also limits lobbyist gifts to legislators to things worth $5 or less. There’s an exception here – if you are related to a legislator, the limit doesn’t apply. I imagine that’s so we don’t see people getting in trouble because they gave their cousin, who happens to be a Missouri lawmaker, a birthday present. But I also imagine that we might see a new trend of lobbying firms hiring legislators’ relatives. Maybe. Unless that’s already illegal. (Note to self: Is that already illegal? It’s an interesting question.)
  4. Campaign finance – This is the big one. First off, the Amendment would ban the legislature from passing any law allowing for unlimited campaign contributions. Then, it would limit donations to candidate campaigns – any person or committee would only be able to give $2,000 to a campaign to elect a state representative, or $2,500 to elect a state senator. There’s some other business in there about how it’s not a good idea to form sock puppet committees to make more donations, or to pretend to be someone else, that sort of thing. It also stops Missouri candidates from taking money from federal PACs unless the donor PAC is registered appropriately in Missouri and agrees to play by Missouri’s rules. Finally, it bans candidates from campaigning on state property, which, frankly, I thought was already illegal. But there you are.

So that’s what’s in the Amendment. Still with me? Okay, good. If you want to get further into the details of Amendment 1, the full version of the petition is available from the Secretary of State’s website.

The legal challenge was brought by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Their complaint was focused on a rule that proposed Amendments have to amend only a single article of the state Constitution, and have a single purpose. Initially, a Cole County judge agreed that the initiative was too broad. But today, an appellate court overturned that decision, saying that the single purpose of the initiative was “regulating the legislature to limit the influence of partisan or other special interests”. So Amendment 1 is back on the ballot for now, but today’s decision is likely to be appealed again, to the Missouri Supreme Court. Whatever happens, folks who want to strike this issue from the ballot will have to act fast. The usual deadline for changes to ballots is six weeks before the date of the election, and that’s this coming Tuesday, 9/26.