A viral online meme popularized by George Takei, among others, encourages people who are turned away at the polls Nov. 6 to request a provisional ballot with a receipt.
There are various versions, but most boil down to advising would-be voters who are refused a ballot on election day to say:
“Give me a provisional ballot and receipt as law requires.”
For once, the internet has some good advice — federal election law does require most states to provide provisional ballots when asked, reports Ballotpedia. But there are some caveats.
A provisional ballot may contain only federal races or all races and ballot measures, depending on the state, according to the site.
It’s kept separate from other ballots and not counted unless the voter shows proper identification to local elections officials by a set deadline after election day, Ballotpedia reported.
Fears of voter suppression efforts ahead of the Nov. 6 elections, which include federal House and Senate races that could alter control of Congress, are driving the online meme.
In Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp — who’s running for election as governor — has been sued over a 2017 law requiring voter registration information to exactly match data on file with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or the Social Security Administration, NBC News reported.
“Under this ‘exact match’ protocol, the transposition of a single letter or number, deletion or addition of a hyphen or apostrophe, the accidental entry of an extra character or space, and the use of a familiar name like ‘Tom’ instead of ‘Thomas’ will cause a no match result,” civil rights groups wrote in the suit, reported the network.
Georgia recently announced that 53,000 new voter registrations had been placed on hold as a result of the protocol, NBC News reported.
In Indiana, a federal court in June blocked efforts to remove voters from the rolls without notice if they’re tagged by a controversial tracking system, reported Reuters.
And in North Dakota, the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 9 let stand a law turning away voters without a street address even though the state issues only post office box numbers to many residents on reservations, reported KVRR.
As a result, the provisional ballot meme has spread wildly on Facebook and Twitter.
“If you are turned away at the polls because your name is not on the register, don’t walk away. Say this: I REQUEST A PROVISIONAL BALLOT AS REQUIRED BY LAW. Don’t let them steal your vote,” wrote “Star Trek” actor and social media influencer George Takei on Twitter.
But most versions of the meme suggest insisting on a receipt as well. A receipt allows voters to follow up and check if their vote has been counted, said Allegra Chapman, senior counsel and director of voting and elections for Common Cause, according to Snopes.
Beyond the meme, there are some other limits and exemptions on provisional ballots for voters to keep in mind, reported Ballotpedia.
In 31 states and the District of Columbia, provisional ballots must be cast in the voter’s correct precinct to be counted, according to the site. And in 14 states, they must be cast in the correct jurisdiction, if not the right precinct.
Finally, provisional ballots are not required in seven states — Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming — that offer election-day voter registration. Voters turned away at the polls can simply register or re-register on the spot in those states, though the precise details vary from state to state.