Recently I have written about the possibility of this year’s presidential election going into overtime because of provisional ballots in Ohio, and why history cautions against being overly alarmed at this prospect. Here I want to explore the dynamic of what might unfold on November 7 and immediately afterwards, so that we can distinguish between (1) an understandably competitive process that is working according to the system as designed, and (2) a process that is beginning to careen out of control and potentially could fall off the rails, causing the proverbial train wreck. To focus on one possible scenario (we could pick others, but it helps to have a specific situation in mind), let’s suppose—as I hypothesized previously—that on November 7 Romney is ahead in Ohio by 10,000 votes, with 150,000 provisional ballots for local elections boards to evaluate. Ohio law permits all provisional voters ten days, until November 16, to give their local boards of elections any required additional information that would enable the boards to verify the eligibility of their ballots. For example, some voters cast a provisional ballot because they show up at the polls without a valid form of voter identification; these ballots, however, will count if the voters supply a permissible form of ID within the next ten days.
In the context of a presidential election that has gone into overtime, some provisional voters on their own initiative will take the steps necessary to give their local boards of election whatever information might help to validate their ballots. But it is easy to imagine that the Obama campaign, which is behind in the count (according to this hypothetical) and thus wants to “rescue” as many provisional ballots as possible, will be concerned that some provisional voters will not undertake the steps necessary to get their ballots counted. For many provisional voters, just figuring out how to navigate the maze of Ohio’s rules and regulations concerning the verification of provisional ballots will be very difficult, and the Obama campaign will want to assist provisional voters with this effort.
The media has reported extensively on the Obama campaign’s highly developed Get-Out-the-Vote “ground game.” Not being part of the campaign, I don’t know whether it will have the capacity, from its own internal resources, to know which of its voters cast provisional rather than regular ballots. If not, or even if the Obama campaign merely wants to double-check the accuracy of its own internal information, it may ask local boards of elections for copies of poll books or other official documents indicating the names and addresses of those voters who cast provisional ballots. This information would enable its campaign workers to contact those voters, to offer assistance with getting their ballots validated.