Last week on Super Tuesday, the number of provisional ballots cast in North Carolina made up a small fraction of total votes cast. But the trends are carefully monitored — and with good reason.

A little over 11,000 Tar Heel voters chose a provisional ballot for the primary, about 7,000 less than in 2020. In Forsyth County, which currently holds the fourth-largest number of registered voters statewide, that total was 534, fourth highest in the state.

Western Carolina University political science professor Christopher Cooper says he's not surprised.

"If you just grab all 100 counties, and you say how many provisionals do they have, and then you say how many registered voters do they have, it tracks really, really well," says Cooper. "So, it is rare to see a county that kind of falls out of whack. And the way I look at the data anyway, Forsyth County looks exactly like what you’d expect."

Another contributor to the higher number in Forsyth relative to other counties may be due to its authorization to vote application forms. Unlike some other counties, Forsyth’s are pre-printed instead of peel-and-stick labels. This forces precinct officials to handle all unreported moves by hand.

Cooper says it speaks to how incredibly de-centralized election administration is.

"It’s things as wonky as, 'Yeah, what kind of labels do you have?'" he says. "Where do you send things off for printing? Things that seem so minute they wouldn’t matter, but really do matter when you’re processing thousands and thousands and thousands of ballots. And so there is a uniform set of standards and within those standards counties can kind of choose their own adventure and sometimes they do."

Cooper says, in Forsyth, having several nearby universities can introduce another layer of confusion: students not sure where or if they’re registered and having to resort to provisional ballots. And in some ways, they’re tailor-made for young voters.

"College students are the exact kind of person that’s going to have just a little bit more administrative difficulty," says Cooper. "And so this provisional process, in some ways you can look at it as a bad thing, but I think it actually works pretty well. It says, look, we’re trying to get people in and out the door so we’re going to take these, we’re going to look at it later. If we can, we’re going to count your ballot."

For North Carolinians who cast a provisional ballot in the March 5 primary, the deadline to return to their county board of elections with their ID is 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 14.

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