Whose Ballots Are Rejected? Demographic Dynamics of Provisional Ballots in North Carolina from 2010-2020

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Provisional ballots were designed to be democracy’s final line of defense against disenfranchisement. Through provisional voting, every person has the right to fill out a ballot. However, many of these ballots are rejected. Whose ballots are rejected? I apply a multiple linear regression model to general elections from 2010-2020 to provide the most comprehensive picture of provisional ballot rejections in North Carolina to date. My model shows that Black voters were consistently and statistically significantly more likely to have their provisional ballots rejected than white voters. This finding is alarming given the danger such disparate outcomes pose to the perceived legitimacy of U.S. elections. Additionally, the existence of such a system creates opportunities for targeted discrimination, which is especially concerning given North Carolina’s historical pursuit of blatantly anti-Black voting policies. North Carolina and other states should modify their election policies to reduce and eventually to eliminate the need for provisional ballots. In the short term, relaxation of voter registration requirements can reduce the use of provisional ballots, and targeted phone banks can reduce their rejection. However, the only way to permanently address the current unequal treatment of voters is to adopt election day voter registration, which would eliminate the need for provisional ballots.





Toscano, James Jr (2021). Whose Ballots Are Rejected? Demographic Dynamics of Provisional Ballots in North Carolina from 2010-2020. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22438.

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