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VERIFY: Can you request a provisional ballot at the polls in DC, Maryland and Virginia?

A meme quoting a 2018 George Takei tweet says that if your name is not on the register when you go to vote, 'request a provisional ballot as required by law.'


On election day, in the DMV, if your name is not on the list of registered voters when you show up, can you vote provisionally as is required by law?


Yes. Virginia, Maryland and D.C. all offer provisional ballots if the identity of the voter is in question.


David Lublin- Professor & Chair of the Department of Government at American University 

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002

U.S. Election Assistance Commission website

Maryland State Board of Elections website

Maryland Attorney General website- "Voting FAQ for 2020"

DC Board of Elections website and "Voting by Special Ballot"

Virginia Department of Elections website


A meme going around shares a quote from actor George Takei, about provisional ballots.

The meme reads: "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."

The meme appears to quote a 2018 tweet.

So we're verifying, in the DMV, if election officials can’t find your name on their list of registered voters, can you ask for a provisional ballot, and is it required by law that they provide one? 

Our Verify researchers looked at the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), spoke with David Lublin, professor and chair of the department of government at American University, and looked at election information for Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

Under federal law, if you’re a registered voter trying to vote in your jurisdiction during a federal election and election officials say you’re not on the poll book,  you can cast a provisional ballot.

"Under HAVA, all states must offer provisional ballots," Lublin said. "It's no longer an option in federal elections, it's a uniform standard throughout the United States." 

HAVA basically protects an eligible voter from being turned away.

"There are sometimes problems with individuals who may have the right to vote, but for whatever reason aren't being allowed to cast a ballot, and so rather than trying to simply adjudicate that at a polling place in the middle of a line of voters, let them cast a separate ballot, put it in an envelope where it’s still secret and then you can evaluate it while you’re counting all of the ballots," Lublin said.

According to our experts, whether or not your ballot is counted has to do with whether state or local election officials can verify your eligibility.

Under HAVA Section 302 (a)(4), "If the appropriate State or local election official to whom the ballot or voter information is transmitted under paragraph (3) determines that the individual is eligible under State law to vote, the individual's provisional ballot shall be counted as a vote in that election in accordance with State law."

To see how that would work in the DMV, we looked at information on the official elections website for Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

In all three, you can vote provisionally, even without an ID. 

In D.C., it’s called a "Special Ballot," a spokesperson from the DC Board of Elections confirmed.

So we can Verify that by law, if you are an eligible voter, you can ask for a provisional ballot in the DMV.

For the upcoming presidential election, Virginia’s registration deadline is Oct. 13, but D.C. and Maryland offer same-day registration on election day at the polling station as long as you have all the right documents.

You can find more information online about provisional ballot voting in the DMV:

Virginia Department of Elections 

Maryland State Board of Elections

DC Board of Elections 

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