(CNN) - With voters turning out in record numbers, voting rights advocates in Ohio say they have received thousands of reports of problems with provisional ballots across the state Tuesday. Voters in Columbus and Cleveland registered the most complaints. Pam Wilmot from Common Cause said provisional ballots could "play a significant role in the outcome of today's election."
Ohio relies heavily on provisional ballots which are issued to a voter for a myriad of reasons but the top three are the voter's name not appearing on the registration rolls, a voter showing up in the wrong precinct, or problems with the voter's form of identification.
Patrick Galloway, spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State says his office has gotten complaints about the number of provisional ballots being issued. He says the Secretary of State's office has "provided direction to the (state's county election) boards to get the word to their provisional judges at polling locations on how to make sure votes are accurately cast."
Steve Hartsman, director of the Montgomery County Ohio Board of Elections which includes Dayton estimates that by time polls close, voters will have cast 12,000-18,000 provisional ballots in his county Tuesday. Hartsman says Montgomery county typically sees 10,000 provisional ballots cast, but he points to record high numbers of voters. Hartsman says more than 300,000 votes will be cast in Montgomery county. In 2004, 279,000 votes were cast.
Voter turnout is high in Cleveland as well. Kim Bartlett of the Cuyahoga Board of Elections says as of 6pm a random sampling of 44 precincts in her county shows that voter turnout is at 56.07%, which she characterizes as high.
Ohio is second only to California in the use of provisional ballots according to Donita Judge, from the Advancement Project, a voter protection organziation. A report issued by the Advancement Project this year shows that in the 2006 general election, more than 120,000 ballots cast in Ohio were provisional ballots. Of those, 18% were rejected and eventually not counted. The ballots were mandated by Congress to ensure that no voter would be turned away from a polling place due to lack of identification. However, provisional ballots are not counted until 10 days after the election, after all official ballots are recorded, and are contestable. Experts say they could be decisive in a close race.
Some judges at polling precincts in Ohio were issuing provisional ballots in error because they were confused about whether state drivers' licenses with outdated addresses could be used as proof of identification, Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Sally Krisel confirmed Tuesday.
"They are nervous, so they have them vote by provisional ballot," Krisel said of the judges who were not aware of an Ohio law that mandates that drivers' licenses can be used as proof of identification and address, even if the address does not match the voter's current address.
Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Community Outreach coordinator Kim Bartlett says the same thing is occurring in her county.
"If I move, I'm not required to get a new drivers license with a new address, she explained Tuesday. "Licenses are good for four years, even if they don't have a valid address, its still considered valid proof of ID."
Both the Hamilton County and Cuyahoga County Board of Elections say they were engaged in outreach efforts throughout election day to explain the rules on provisional ballots to confused poll workers.
Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley said he had also heard some complaints about voters being forced to use the provisional ballot but it was too early to tell if this was a systematic, statewide problem.
"Ohio's provisional voting laws are unbelievably complicated, he added. "There are 14 separate reasons why a voter should vote on a provisional ballot. I'm a law professor and I can't keep them in my head. We can't expect poll workers to implement these rules flawlessly."
Krisel assured Ohio voters Tuesday that "all ballots will be counted" even if they were provisional.
But Democratic watchdog group, the Advancement Project, remained concerned.
"We are observing an excessive use of provisional ballots, and are wondering why," said lawyer Sheila Thomas on Tuesday. Candice Hoke of Cleveland State University's Center for Election Integrity said the reason could lie in problems with the voter databases themselves.
"Problems with voter registration records in database are leading to higher rates of provisional ballots than should be occurring."
Her monitors had received complaints that some voters had found themselves dropped from voter rolls due to hiccups with the voter registration databases that are not subject to federal certification systems for accuracy or security. They were therefore forced to vote by provisional ballot as well.
–CNN's Beth Elliott contributed to this report
Updated: 7:23 p.m.