Voter ID Opponents’ Latest Spurious Claim: Voter ID Allegedly Slows Election Tabulations, by Horace Cooper

Critics of commonsense anti-fraud measures such as voter ID continue to engage in desperate efforts to change public opinion on the issue, racing from one complaint to another. They’ve claimed that requiring voters to present identification is a form of voter suppression1, that voter fraud is rare2 and now, a new claim: requiring voter ID supposedly would make it harder for election officials to declare winners in a timely fashion.3

Yes, you read that correctly. Critics of voter ID now claim that rules adopted in some voter ID states that allow a voter who shows up at the polling site without ID to vote provisionally, and return with ID later, will unduly delay the nation from knowing the outcome of elections. “It’s a possibility of a complete meltdown for the election,” said Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida.4

Overblown rhetoric aside, this new anti-voter ID argument is curious in many ways – and not just because it is the latest false claim being put forward by liberals to thwart strong voter ID laws. First, this new criticism requires the establishment of an entirely new goal – one that could be at odds with honest and fair elections – timeliness over accuracy. Rather than keeping the focus on ensuring that the election results are accurately calculated, with this latest charge, voter ID critics imply that renewed emphasis should be placed on ensuring that there are no delays in reporting results.

Curiously, other than as a means of criticizing voter ID, there appears to be no groundswell of concern by most Americans that speed is more important than accuracy in the compilation of election results.

There are a variety of reasons that election results may be delayed, including such questions as whether electronic or paper ballots are used. Normally, however, the public is well served by ensuring accurate results rather than quick ones.

Second, provisional ballots will be required in many cases only because of the demands of the critics of voter ID. Some states enacted provisional ballots specifically in response to the intense litigation efforts of these liberal groups.

What are provisional ballots? Provisional ballots are ballots cast by voters whose lawful eligibility to vote is disputed, challenged or for some reason questioned at the polling site. For instance, if a potential voter has had a change of address, a name change or has been removed from the voter rolls due to claims of death or incarceration, they may show up on Election Day and find that they are told that they may only cast a “provisional ballot” instead of a traditional voting ballot.

Per federal law, there are several circumstances where voters must be provided a provisional ballot if they are not allowed to cast a traditional ballot.5 These circumstances include:

• Individuals whose names do not appear on the official eligible voters list at the polling site and who declare that they are registered to vote in the state

• Persons who are legally eligible to vote in federal elections6

• First-time voters who have never produced required voter identification documents

• Voters who vote at a polling site after polls close because of a federal or state court order extending polling hours.

Any American citizen casting a “provisional ballot” authorized by federal law must be provided with written information indicating the means to ascertain whether his vote was counted, and if it was not counted, why it was not. For “provisional ballot” voting circumstances beyond those established by federal law, state laws set forth the requirements.

It is these state rules that critics of voter ID claim will potentially delay election returns.

Critics can’t have it both ways. They can’t on the one hand criticize states for requiring voter ID (claiming the state is erecting barriers to vote) and then complain when the states provide provisional ballots (giving voters ample opportunities to comply with ID requirements), which may take longer to count.

In fact, in placating the critics of voter ID laws, many states have adopted fairly generous rules allowing voters to vote “provisionally” if they show up at the polls without fully meeting the requirements for voting. Many states have tried design their voter ID law rules to fit the needs of their own states, resulting in a variety of rules regarding provisional voters across the nation. For instance, in the states of Wisconsin and Virginia, voters have three days to produce an ID or their provisional ballots will be destroyed.7 However, voters in Pennsylvania have six days to produce an ID.8 In Ohio, provisional voters have up to 10 days to bring an ID to the county board of elections.9

This creates a patchwork of rules regarding provisional ballots, but since citizens are only allowed to vote in one state, the differences aren’t particularly burdensome. However, rather than illustrate the flexibility that legislatures promoting voter ID have exhibited, this new criticism demonstrates the left’s real agenda, which is simply to oppose voter ID for any and all reasons. The critics are so interested in raising objections that they put complaints forward even when they lack substance.

Moreover, the idea that state legislatures can limit confusion or guarantee timely election results flies against real world experience. The public generally learns the outcome of an election within a few hours of the polls closing. However, in several high profile presidential races over the last decade that wasn’t the case, and it had nothing to do with voter ID rules. Consider the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004.

In 2000, even though the networks had declared George W. Bush the winner of Florida’s electoral votes, supporters of Al Gore insisted that the election results be delayed to ensure that an accurate count had occurred.10 A similar situation arose in 2004 when supporters of John Kerry insisted that he not accept Ohio’s secretary of state’s determination that Mr. Bush had carried Ohio.11 Notably in 2004 liberals had pressured the major media networks to end the “rush” to declare winners on election night and take longer to let the counts play out.12

The newfound opponents of election outcome delays can’t seem to separate their principles from their campaign ambitions. The left’s silence in 2000 over the public not knowing the presidential election outcome when it was indeterminate for over a month speaks volumes.13 Similarly, in 2004, liberals were silent when most of the national media agreed to delay state projections on election night and when John Kerry delayed the results further even after the Secretary of State of Ohio had declared George W. Bush the winner in Ohio.14

Whether election outcomes will be delayed this year is an open question – one far more influenced by any election’s competitiveness than by the rules involving the treatment of provisional ballots. Regardless of whether the presidential race or any other races this cycle are close, the issue that is most important is the accuracy of the count.

Benjamin Franklin famously said at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention that the American people had been given “a Republic if you can keep it.” Fundamentally, one of our citizenry’s duties is to ensure that only eligible voters cast the deciding votes for our elected officials and referendum. Having to delay the vote results long enough to count all the validated “provisional” ballots is a small price to protect our republic.

In any case, provisional ballots aren’t new. Moreover, in fact even in elections untainted by controversy, significant numbers of them fail to be counted. Only 69% of the 2.1 million provisional ballots cast in 2008 were counted.15 The remainder included those that were invalidated because they were not cast in the correct precinct or jurisdiction, were incomplete or unsigned, the individual wasn’t registered to vote or the potential voter failed to produce sufficient identification.16

While more individuals may indeed receive a provisional ballot instead of a regular ballot this election cycle, we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Eliminating voter ID requirements as way to reduce provisional ballots would likely increase concerns about ballot integrity among the public and make fraud easier. Furthermore, elimination of voter ID would reduce public confidence in election results.


When aliens, ineligible felons, and “ghost voters” show up on election day, these fraudsters suppress the votes of actual citizens and extinguish the constitutional rights of political expression of all law-abiding Americans.

Critics of voter ID continually to change their basis for criticizing this commonsense method of reducing voter fraud. Nonetheless, state courts and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have consistently upheld voter ID against a range of arguments. They’ve rejected the claim that voter ID requirements are racist or anti-minority or that voter fraud isn’t real. (In fact, evidence increasingly demonstrates that blacks and other minorities are often the prime beneficiaries of rules that prevent voter fraud.17)

Moreover, protecting every citizen’s vote is a fundamental duty of state government. Spurious arguments notwithstanding, fair Americans agree that the views of ineligible voters and “ghosts” should never displace the aspirations of living, eligible voters.

Horace Cooper is an adjunct fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research and a Project Director of the National Center’s Voter Identification Task Force.


1 See, for example, from the ACLU website: “Voter Suppression Measures Passed in 2011,” referencing voter ID laws adopted by state legislatures in 2011 as “voter suppression” measures.

2 “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” The Brennan Center for Justice, September 2006.

3 “Provisional Voting May Delay Outcome of Election,” Associated Press, September 27, 2012.

4 “Provisional Voting May Delay Outcome of Election,” Associated Press, September 27, 2012.

5 The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), Public Law No. 107-252 was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 29, 2002. It mandates the use of provisional voting in all federal elections in every State, including the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the United States Virgin Islands, and each jurisdiction within each State.

6 The Help America Vote Act provides for specific identification requirements for first time voters who initially register by mail. In order to meet the minimum registration identification requirements, a first time registered voter must present to the appropriate State or local election official a current and valid photo identification card; or a copy of current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter; or alternatively the individual may bring this information with them to the polling site.

7 “Provisional Voting May Delay Outcome of Election,” Associated Press, September 27, 2012.

8 VotesPA state website: “If you do not have a photo ID, or are indigent and unable to obtain one without payment of a fee, you may cast a provisional ballot, and will have six days to provide your photo ID and/or an affirmation to your county elections office to have your ballot count.”

9 “Elections and Voting,” Ohio Secretary of State website: “If you cast a provisional ballot and did not provide acceptable proof of identity at the time of voting, you must appear in person at the board of elections to provide such proof within the 10 days immediately following Election Day, in accordance with Ohio law.”

10 Dave Leips, “2000 Events Timeline – Post-Election,” Atlas of US Presidential Elections, 2012.

11 Andrew Sherry, “USA Today 2004 Election Blog,” USA Today, November 3, 2004.

12 Martha T. Moore and Peter Johnson, “TV Networks Were in No Rush to Call Presidential Election,” USA Today, November 3, 2004.

13 American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s Fighting Assaults on Liberty explains: “During the 2000 Presidential election, the ACLU working in conjunction with its National Voting Rights Project, based in Atlanta, filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs in both the Palm Beach County Circuit Court and the 4th District Court of Appeal challenging the Palm Beach “butterfly ballot”. The ACLU also filed a brief in the U. S. Supreme Court defending the authority of the Florida Supreme Court to interpret and resolve conflicts in state law, and supporting the court’s ruling that permitted an extension of time for the hand recount of disputed ballots.”

14 Nick Anderson and Elizabeth Jensen, “News Networks Call Election Results With Caution,” Los Angeles Times, November 03, 2004. Democrats claimed that the early announcement in 2000 calling Bush the winner led to Gore’s premature concession as well as helped “cement in the public mind the impression that Bush was president-elect…”

15 “Provisional Voting May Delay Outcome of Election,” Associated Press, September 27, 2012.

16 “Ensuring That Provisional Ballots are Counted,” Project Vote Legislative Brief, January 2010.

17 Horace Cooper, “Voter Fraud is Real,” National Center for Public Policy Research, August 2012.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.