Report: Despite Ohio’s Record 2020 General Election Turnout, Troubling Rates of Provisional Ballot Usage Remain in Black, Brown, and Low-income Communities

COLUMBUS While a record six million Ohio voters cast a ballot in the 2020 General Election, more than 150,000 cast provisional ballots, a continuation of a troubling trend in voter access, All Voting is Local found in its new report “Too Many Ballots of Last Resort – Disparities in Provisional Ballot Use in Ohio’s 2020 Election” released today. The report found troubling disparities of provisional ballot use that relate to race, ethnicity, age, and income across the past three recent major elections.

“Ohio can no longer tolerate the unfair use of provisional ballots in its elections,” said Kayla Griffin, All Voting is Local’s Ohio State Director. “The 2020 General Election clearly showed much higher provisional ballots usage in Black, Brown, and low-income communities. Ohio’s elections officials must do better to ensure that all voters can have their voices heard.” 

In 2020, of the 2.47 million voters who chose to cast their ballots on Election Day, 154,675 of them were asked to cast a provisional ballot. Typically considered a ballot of ‘last resort,’ provisional ballots allow voters who encounter problems at the polls on Election Day the ability to cast their ballot, including voters who show up at the wrong polling location, have insufficient identification, or don’t appear in the poll books. 

Despite fewer people voting on Election Day in 2020 compared to 2016, a similar number of provisional ballots were used and rejection rates of these ballots increased in 2020. These provisional ballots were disproportionately  used by traditionally disenfranchised groups in Franklin, Cuyahoga, and Hamilton Counties.

Key report’s findings:

  • A pattern of provisional ballot use that correlated to race, ethnicity, age, and income across three major elections, revealing troubling disparities.
  • Ultimately, increasing vote-by-mail (VBM) rates decreased the need for provisional ballots. 
  • Taken together, provisional ballot trends showed increased use, increased rejection rates, and decreased cure rates among historically disenfranchised groups.

The report urges Ohio election officials to adopt policies that increase the use of Vote-By-Mail (VBM) rates, to decrease provisional ballot use. Among the other key recommendations:

  • County and state officials must invest in expanding early voting opportunities including multiple absentee ballot return locations and multiple early vote locations in every county. 
  • County and state officials must create an infrastructure to support widespread VBM use across the state including automatic voter registration.
  • Additional poll worker training on voting regulations.
  • Ohio must begin to collect and publish reasons for provisional ballot use and make the data publicly available.
  • More research is needed a) at the precinct level to understand dynamics within counties and cities and b) on the interactions between voters and poll workers that lead to disparate use of provisional ballots.
  • Jurisdictions must invest in VBM infrastructure, widespread no-excuse absentee voting, and voter education. They must also create a robust ballot cure process that includes voter education and ballot alert systems that allow voters an opportunity to correct a faulty ballot.

The full report can be read here and access to the press conference recording here.