The age of the no-fault voter

Yesterday, a Polk County, Iowa District Judge threw out a lawsuit challenging Iowa’s provisional balloting rules. The contested rule would allow any Iowa voter (or non-voter, really) to cast a provisional vote in any precinct in the state. Similar to my wireless plan, it essentially amounts to statewide roaming for voters.

Provisional ballots – as required under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 – have the potential to be a strong safety net to ensure that every registered voter gets the chance to vote. Under the law, voters can cast a ballot on Election Day, and voter registrars can sort out the validity of the vote – and whether or not it should be counted – after the fact.

Most states are handling the requirement well. Ohio requires provisional ballots be cast in a voter’s precinct, the regional headquarters for their home precinct, or the voter registrar’s office in their county. A clear line of authority. Iowans, conversely, don’t even need to bother to go to their own polling place in order to cast a provisional ballot.

Plenty of tools exist to make voting as easy as possible for voters while still protecting the process: early voting, absentee voting and now provisional voting. In order to protect the continued validity of these tools, however, it is imperative we set guidelines in order to protect the continued validity of the process as a whole.

The New York Times opined this week that Congress “should make clear that provisional ballots must be counted even if they are filed in the wrong polling places.” Such action would essentially remove what little voter responsibility is left in the process.

If a voter cannot take it upon themselves to glean their polling place from the voter information mailed to them, or at the most “inconvenient,” enter any polling place and ask to be directed to their own, then the fault for their non-participation should lie flatly at their own feet, not at the feet of the county, state or the Congress.

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