PoliGraph: Higgins’ voter ID claim accurate

Editor’s Note: After publishing this story on March 28, Kathy Bonnifield, executive director for Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, sent PoliGraph this academic paper written by Michael J. Pitts and Matthew D. Neumann at the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis.

After the 2008 general election, the authors polled Indiana’s 92 counties to find out how many people had to fill out a provisional ballot because they didn’t have proper identification, and how many of those ballots were ultimately counted. According to the research, 1,039 voters filled out a provisional ballot because they lacked the right ID, and 137 of those ballots were counted. That means nearly 87 percent of the ballots were not counted.

It’s important to point out that we still don’t know is why those voters didn’t return to their local elections offices to verify their identification or to seek one of several identification exemptions Indiana offers. Some may not have had the proper identification, others may not have had the time or the interest to return.

Still, the research shows that around 83 percent of the provisional ballots cast by those who did not have proper identification were never counted, and it underscores Higgins’ underlying point that casting a provisional ballot doesn’t meant the vote will be counted.

We’ve changed this PoliGraph ruling to accurate as a result. The original story – with the original ruling of misleading – remains below.


It appears all but certain a constitutional amendment to require voters to show photo identification at the polls will be on the ballot this fall.

The amendment passed both the Minnesota House and Senate mostly on party lines. A conference committee will now have to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

According to both the versions of the bill, those who don’t have proper identification will have to fill out a provisional ballot, which could be counted once a voter’s identity is confirmed. DFL Sen. Linda Higgins, who opposed the amendment, said it’s a system that hasn’t worked that well in other states.

“In Indiana after Voter ID was passed, 83 percent of the provisional ballots were never counted,” she said during Senate debate over the bill. “That’s appalling.”

Higgins is correct that 83 percent of Indiana’s provisional ballots were never counted in the 2008 presidential election. But her claim implies that all of them were rejected because of the state’s voter ID laws, which is misleading.

The Evidence

Indiana’s voter identification rules became law in 2005. Voters who don’t have photo ID at the polls can fill out a provisional ballot. It’s counted only if the voter can prove their identity or seeks an exemption by noon on the Monday following an election within 10 days of the election. Some states use provisional ballots even if they don’t have voter ID rules, and Indiana was using them before it adopted its new law.

Minnesota does not use provisional ballots because the state allows voters to register the same day as they vote.

Higgins did not return calls to clarify which year she was talking about or to provide sourcing. But data collected after each national election by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission tracks provisional ballot rejections.

After the 2006 election, the first year Indiana’s voter identification law was implemented, 1,107 provisional ballots – or about 55 percent of all provisional ballots cast – were not counted. According to the survey, none were thrown out because voters failed to prove their identity.

The 2008 presidential election cycle saw higher turnout and more provisional ballots. Roughly 84 percent of Indiana’s provisional ballots were not counted.

But only 14 percent of the rejected ballots were not counted because voters failed to show proper identification. Other ballots were thrown out because the voter wasn’t registered in the state, registered in the wrong precinct, or didn’t sign his or her ballot, among other reasons.

During the 2010 midterm elections, Indiana did not count 61 percent of the roughly 1,800 provisional ballots cast. Twelve percent of the rejected ballots were not counted because voters failed to present sufficient identification.

The Verdict

It’s true that after the 2008 presidential election Indiana rejected roughly 83 percent of its provisional ballots. And Higgins has a point that provisional ballots don’t always guarantee a vote.

But Higgins fails to point out that far fewer of the uncounted ballots were rejected because of identification issues, as her claim implies.

On balance, Higgins’ claim is misleading.


Minnesota Public Radio News, Senate passes voter ID requirement, critics vow litigation, by Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio News, March 23, 2010

Pew Center on the States, Provisional Ballots: An Imperfect Solution, July 2009

National Conference of State Legislatures, State by State Voter Identification Requirements, accessed March 28, 2012.

U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 2010 Election Administration and Voting Survey, December 2011

U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 2008 Election Administration and Voting Survey, November 2009

U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 2006 Election Administration and Voting Survey, December 2007

  • Ralph Crammedin

    For goodness sake, Catharine, you’ve completely mischaracterized Senator Higgins’ remark, and your analysis is utterly fallacious. The point is not that some fraction of provisional votes are, or are not, due to the requirement of voter ID. Senator Higgins didn’t say that, or even imply it. The point is that voter ID laws make it harder for many people to vote. This is in part because provisional ballots make it harder for people to vote, whether required to be cast because of an ID problem, or for other reasons. In Indiana, provisional ballots made it so hard for people to vote that “roughly 84 percent of Indiana’s provisional ballots were not counted.”

    Unless you have information demonstrating that less than 84% of the provisional ballots cast because voters failed to show proper identification were ultimately not counted, you have both failed to comprehend the point of Senator Higgins’ remark, and failed totally in assessing her comments as “misleading.” Please try to bone up on deductive logic. In this case, you have completely failed to understand what you’re talking about.

  • Linda Higgins

    Minnesota existing state election law is vastly superior to any method that uses provisional ballots. In the case of people whose provo ballots did not count because they voted in the wrong precinct: in Minnesota, an election judge would have caught it, and the voter would have been directed to the appropriate polling place — where his/her vote would count. A voter from another state would not be allowed to vote, unless he/she has lived in MN more than 20 days, in which case, the voter could register and vote — and have the vote count.

    Just letting people cast a provisional ballot and then throw it in a pile in the corner, for whatever reason they were not allowed to cast a ballot on Election Day, is wrong. They think they voted. They did not, unless they later presented themselves somewhere to give further documentation.

    Unless a voter is otherwise ineligible to vote, as is enumerated in statute, we should make no barriers that stand in the way of their vote.