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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A new report giving Utah high marks for counting more provisional ballots than most states during last year's election has prompted a round of backslapping among state election officials who say it's a testament to their efforts.
Utah ranked 10th in the nation for counting 70 percent of the provisional ballots cast during the 2004 election, according to Electionline.org, a nonpartisan clearinghouse for election-related information. One state -- Delaware -- counted only 6 percent of provisional ballots cast and 23 states counted less than half, the organization said.
State Election Director Michael Cragun is delighted.
"It does speak to the attention that our county election officials are paying to make it possible so everyone who qualifies to vote can vote," he said.
Provisional ballots are offered to voters who do not appear on registration rolls on Election Day, but are registered to vote in a county. The ballots are not counted unless the voter's registration can be verified. A voter also must be able to produce photo identification and some type of proof, such as a utility bill, that verifies residence in the precinct.
Ohio, the November election's foremost battleground, came in 5th nationwide, with 78 percent of provisional ballots counted. Utah topped the national average of 68 percent accepted, Electionline.org reported in its March briefing.
November's general election marked the deadline set by Congress in its Help America Vote Act for all states to offer a provisional ballot. Proponents hoped the measure would keep registration mistakes from blocking voting access.
But critics feared the ballots would become the next "hanging chad" problem.
According to the Electionline report, provisional balloting was one of the "most contentious election administration issues" of the November election and prompted requests for national standards. Still, the ballots could be considered a success because of the 1.6 million cast, nearly 1.1 million were counted, the report states.
In Salt Lake County, election administrators added an extra judge for polling places to help ensure voters were in the right precinct. Utah law prevents a provisional ballot from being counted if a voter casts the ballot in the wrong precinct where different elected positions are listed.
The state is currently gearing up to debut its statewide voter registration database, required by the federal HAVA rules. When it is commissioned, the program is expected to reduce the need for provisional ballots, Cragun said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)