Department of Elections Provides Information about Provisional Voting in the November 8 Election

Department of Elections
City and County of San Francisco
John Arntz, Director

For Immediate Release
SAN FRANCISCO, Monday, November 7, 2016 – To shed light on the process, the Department of Elections provides information about provisional voting and the review process of provisional ballots cast at the polls on Election Day.

Occasionally, there are circumstances that require a voter to cast a provisional ballot. Often it is because the voter went to a different polling place than the one where he or she is assigned, based on his or her home address, and does not wish to be re-directed to the assigned polling place. Another common reason is that the Department issued a vote-by-mail ballot but the voter is unable to surrender it in exchange for a polling place ballot. 

Under these circumstances, a poll worker will issue a provisional ballot—a regular polling place ballot that is placed in a special envelope prior to being put in the ballot box. The envelope contains fields for the voter to write information that allows Department staff to establish the voter’s eligibility in order to count the ballot. The envelope also contains a detachable receipt that the voter can use to check the status of the provisional ballot.  

Along with other voted ballots and election materials, all provisional ballot envelopes are transported on Election Night from polling places to the Department’s Processing Center at its Pier 48 warehouse, where the envelopes are organized by precinct and manually counted; the count is released to the public the next day and may vary from the final count of provisional ballots cast.

Later on Election Night, the envelopes are transported to the Department’s office in City Hall for processing and review, which begins the next day. Provisional ballot processing is open to public observation, either in person at the Department’s office in City Hall or on SF Elections Live. This process will take approximately two weeks, depending on the volume. Staff will work every day until all provisional ballots have been reviewed.

First, staff capture an image of each provisional ballot envelope and batch the images per precinct to ready them for the next step: entering a record of receipt of each provisional ballot into the associated voter’s record.  Then, the voter’s information on each envelope image is compared to the voter’s information on file with the Department.  

If a voter is determined to be eligible and has not cast another ballot, the provisional ballot is counted. If the provisional ballot has the same contests as the ballots used in the voter’s assigned precinct, then all of his or her votes are counted. If the voter cast a provisional ballot with some different contests than the ballots used in his or her assigned precinct, the Department counts only the votes for the contests on which the voter was entitled to vote.

The most common reasons that provisional ballots cannot be counted are: the person is not registered to vote, the voter cast a provisional ballot in the wrong county, or signature issues. Before the final determination to challenge the ballot is made, the information is reviewed three, and in some cases four times, by senior Department staff.

The Department of Elections advises voters to use the Provisional Ballot Status Lookup Tool on to check the status of their provisional ballots. Starting Friday, November 11, voters who cast provisional ballots can confirm receipt of their ballots by the Department and track the status as staff continue the multi-step review process.

If a provisional ballot could not be counted, the Provisional Ballot Status Lookup Tool indicates the reason that it was challenged.  Any voters who believe that they should be registered in San Francisco but learn that their ballot was challenged because their voter registration record could not be found or is cancelled are urged to contact the Department at (415) 554-4375 as soon as possible. In this situation, the Department can provide information about the process to petition the Superior Court to compel the Department to count the ballot before the election results are certified. The Department expects to certify results 3-4 weeks after Election Day.

The Department also provides a toll-free telephone number, (866) 325-9163, by which voters can obtain information about the status of their provisional ballots.


Department of Elections
City and County of San Francisco
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place,
City Hall, Room 48
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 554-4375

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