Provisional ballots could alter Florida election results, here's how

Florida election officials begin checking 'challenged' ballots

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - In the days after Election Day, county supervisor of elections offices across Florida are convening canvassing boards to count “challenged" or provisional ballots to make sure there is no uncertainty about the ballot.

Election officials give voters provisional ballots for several reasons, including if a voter did not have proper identification at the time they voted or their name was not found on the voter rolls.

Provisional ballots are hand-checked by canvasing boards that determine if the voter was eligible to vote at the time their ballot was cast. Boards of election or local election officials usually investigate the provisional ballots within days of the election.

How challenged ballots are handled is different by state. In Florida, each county has a canvassing board meeting to check provisional or challenged ballots. Those meetings are open to the public.

According to Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Michael Ertel, all votes from provisional ballots are due by noon on the Saturday after Election Day to the Florida Divisions of Elections office. A Seminole County canvassing board meeting will happen Thursday at 4 p.m.

"We want to know that in every election, that at least half of the candidates loss. They don't always want to blame themselves. We just want to make sure that what we have done is perfect to ensure that those candidates and the public know they went well," Ertel said. 

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said the county’s canvassing board meeting is Thursday at 10 a.m.

District 4 commissioner in Orange County could be among the recounts. 

"When you look at County Commission District 4, you have that heavy growth going on in Orange County. You also have the high influx of Hispanics move into that area, first time voters, so there are a lot of factors driving that one to be a close situation," Cowles said. 

Brevard and Osceola county canvassing boards meet Friday. Lake County’s board meets Monday at 9 a.m.

Here’s what the Florida Division of Elections website says about how canvassing boards verify provisional ballots:

1.    Voters who did not provide an acceptable photo and signature identification at the polls, do not need to do anything. The local canvassing board will compare their signature on the provisional ballot certificate with the signature on your voter registration record. If the signatures match, the provisional ballot will be counted.

2.    Voters who were given a provisional ballot because they were challenged by another person, at the wrong precinct or did not appear on the precinct register have the opportunity to bring in evidence to their local supervisor of elections no later than 5 p.m. on Nov. 8.

Can provisional ballots cause a recount? Sometimes.

After the provisional ballots are checked, the counted votes will be turned over to the state. Absentee, military and overseas ballots also continue to be counted in the days after Election Day.

Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner will order a machine recount if there is a .5 percentage point difference in races; a hand recount requires a difference of .25 percentage points. The Department of State oversees the Florida Division of Elections.

After Election Day, the highly-contested U.S. Senate race between incumbent Se. Bill Nelson and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and the agriculture commissioner elections could be up for recounts, according to election officials.

If a machine recount is ordered, county canvassing boards have until Nov. 15 to turn in their second round of unofficial returns. Here is a more detailed timeline of how counties report ballots in Florida.

When will you know if your provisional ballot was counted? The pollsters who gave you your provisional ballot should have also given you a notice of rights, which includes information on how to find out if your ballot was counted after review. Contact your local supervisor of elections office if you did not receive that information.

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