Provisional Voting 

Absentee ballots absent

Somewhere in a bedroom in Missoula, perhaps stashed beneath a pile of clothes that won’t get moved until spring, is a ballot not cast in Tuesday’s election. It’s an absentee ballot that was never returned, and its requester’s intent was not registered in the vote totals reported Tuesday night. But, perhaps, by voting provisionally, his or her vote will still be counted.

Such voters, who expected to be given a fresh ballot when they had already been sent an absentee ballot, were the reason for “about 80 percent” of the 886 provisional ballots cast in Missoula County, according to Debbe Merseal of the elections office. With one ballot already issued in the voter’s name, votes cast on another ballot can not be counted until it is verified that the voter’s absentee corollary has not been counted.

When a voter arrived at the poll, he or she first spoke with a record judge, keeper of a thick book holding the name of every registered voter in the precinct. If the signature line indicated that an absentee ballot had been sent, the voter was told to fill out a provisional ballot unless their absentee ballot could be retrieved and voted. Some went home to unearth their absentees. Many said they had thrown out the ballot or lost it. No one blamed his dog.

Before finalizing election results, officials will have to sift through all absentee ballots received and compare them with provisional ballots cast. In the meantime, each provisional ballot sits sealed inside its own “secrecy” envelope, itself sealed in another envelope containing information about the ballot’s provisional status and the voter who cast it.

Missoula County’s 886 provisional ballots amount to almost two percent of the 47,139 ballots completed at polling places across the county. Whichever ones pass muster after counting begins at 3 p.m. on Monday will make it into Tuesday’s official final tally.

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