Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Provisional Ballot Mock Trial Entertains and Informs at RNLA Conference

The relatively early morning Saturday starting time did not deter one of the more informational and entertaining panels at the recently concluded RNLA Election Conference held last week in New York City. The Provisional Ballots Mock Trial simulation provided conference attendees an inside look at various scenarios and arguments that arise with sometimes-arcane provisional ballot protocols.

Voters cast provisional ballots when there is some question about eligibility. As the trial demonstrated, possibilities include questions about party registration, voting in the wrong precinct, voters moving to new precincts, or some other situation where they do not appear on the appropriate voting rolls. Provisional ballots themselves raise a series of questions when they are not filled out correctly, for instance, lack of appropriate signatures, missing affidavits, ballots not being sealed correctly, secrecy envelopes missing, and voters providing inappropriate ballots as instructed by poll workers.

As demonstrated through the mock trial all of these scenarios regularly happen in the provisional voting process and can make a difference in a close election.

The mock trial focused on Office of Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in fictional Broadway County, Pennsylvania. RNLA Board of Governor member Katie Goldman represented one candidate and RNLA Southeast Pennsylvania Chair Linda Kerns represented the other. Ron Hicks, RNLA Counsel, represented the County as Solicitor. The Election Board consisted of Christine Svenson, RNLA Illinois Chapter Chair, this writer, and Joseph Nixon, Co-Chair of RNLA’s Texas Chapter.

Ms. Goldman and Ms. Kerns took opposing sides as each deftly navigated the various pitfalls associated with provisional ballots. Mr. Hicks argued in each case the votes should remain uncounted following the official decision of the County’s Election Bureau Manager. In each instance counsel had to balance the requirements of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) 52 U.S.C. §21082 enacted to encourage voting and the consequences of administrative error that sometimes occurs with elderly or inexperienced poll workers against fealty to state laws meant to ensure the integrity of the process.

When the often-spirited arguments concluded after each voting scenario the Election Board decided which votes would be counted. Reflecting real-life circumstances, the Board often struggled to reach consensus with most votes ending as 2-1 to accept or reject the particular ballot.

Adding to the drama the solicitor found unexpected “surprises” in envelopes once opened like missing inner “secrecy” envelopes forcing counsel to reargue votes they thought had already been decided.

The audience enjoyed the spectacle often interrupting the proceedings to ask questions and inquire about different scenarios. The participants too shared anecdotes throughout the proceeding to enrich the experience further.

Overall both participants and audience members rated the mock trial high on both the educational and entertainment aspects. It will hopefully provide a more knowledgeable base of Republican lawyers to fight for Republican ballots in future provisional voting contests.

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