Provisional Ballots Surged In LA County. If You Cast One, Here's What To Know

Jetoi Johnson displays California's multi-language "I Voted" sticker for those who voted at the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office in Norwalk. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of people who had to cast provisional ballots in Los Angeles County is way up from the last midterm general election.

Preliminary estimates show more than 400,000 voters submitted provisional ballots in the county — nearly four times the number submitted in the 2014 general.

County election officials said the highest volume of provisional ballots came from voters who arrived at polling places and were listed as vote-by-mail voters but didn't have mail ballots with them to surrender. This is required to guard against voters casting two ballots.

Some voters reported arriving to their polling location and being listed as vote-by-mail voters mistakenly when they had never signed up to vote by mail.

Voters who went to the wrong polling place to cast ballots also accounted for the high number of provisional ballots.

Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the L.A. County Registrar's office, said officials also believe the spike in provisional ballots was related to Department of Motor Vehicles voter registrations. That issue is being looked at statewide.

"The number of provisional ballots estimated by California county elections officials is consistent with a high turnout election," Sam Mahood, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, said in an email. "Additionally, the complaints we received to our voter hotline did not indicate widespread issues due to Motor Voter."

Automated voter registration at the DMV went into effect in California in April. Those applying or renewing licenses are automatically signed up to vote unless they opt out of registering.

The program came under fire after errors were reported with tens of thousands of voter registrations earlier this year.

The nonprofit California Common Cause ran an Election Day hotline for L.A. County voters, said Rey Lopez-Calderon, the group's incoming executive director. It received over 900 calls for help.

"A large number of the calls were people who just were being told that they weren't on the rolls, they weren't on the rosters," he said. "People were getting angry."

He said the issues varied, but a common complaint involved confusion over polling locations. In some cases, instead of directing voters to the correct location, poll workers handed out provisional ballots.

"When the elections are very high stakes and we have higher than expected turnout, I think it puts a strain on the system, and people aren't quite ready to deal with that. And so the fallback on that is just to hand everybody a provisional ballot," Lopez-Calderon said.

Among the top issues reported to California Common Cause were polling place problems, such as workers incorrectly asking for identification and voter rolls that didn't arrive until later in the morning. California does not generally require IDs to vote.

In a press release, the organization reported that voters at Mark Twain Middle School in Los Angeles were unable to cast ballots until precinct rolls arrived at 11 a.m. — four hours after polls opened statewide.

Sanchez said via email that the number of provisional ballots represents those who could have been prevented from voting if not for the state's "voter-focused provisional ballot policies." These allow voters to ask for a provisional ballot if any issue arises at the polls.

Lopez-Calderon said it's not yet clear if widespread problems led to the high number of provisional ballots. His organization plans to work with county election officials statewide so poll workers can better assist voters when they run into problems.

I HAD TO CAST A PROVISIONAL BALLOT, WAS IT COUNTED?

Statewide, officials say voters cast more than a million provisional ballots. California counts all of its provisional ballots after voters' eligibility is verified.

L.A. County voters can check the status of their ballots starting on Dec. 6 on the county's website. The statewide voter status tool is also available to L.A. County voters or those in other California counties.

KPCC/LAist will continue to track voting problems. Please feel free to submit any tips or concerns you had about voting via email to humanvoterguide@kpcc.org.