Don’t Go Naked! Everything You Need to Know to Vote by Mail
With more people than ever expected to vote by mail in November, making sure your vote is counted in Pennsylvania may come down to an envelope. Here’s everything you need to know about voting by mail in Pennsylvania for the Nov. 3 general election.
What are mail ballots?
In Pennsylvania, you now have two options for mail ballots. You may either choose a mail-in ballot or an absentee ballot to request, complete, and return to your county election office.
- Mail-in ballot – Any qualified voter may apply for a mail-in ballot. You may simply request this ballot without a reason.
- Absentee ballot – If you plan to be out of the municipality on election day or if you have a disability or illness, you should request this ballot type, which still requires you to list a reason for your ballot.
In order to request either ballot type, you must be registered to vote. Please visit Check Your Registration Status to review your registration information
Which ballot should I use?
All registered voters can use the mail-in ballot so to avoid any uncertainly, we recommend using it. Absentee ballots are limited to voters with certain circumstances. Learn more here.
How do I get my mail-in ballot?
Registered voters can go online to www.votespa.com/applymailballot. You can provide your email address if you want to receive an email confirming when your request has been processed. You will receive your ballot in the mail.
You can also obtain a physical application form and return it (either by mail or in person) to your county election office, in one of the following ways:
- You can download the mail-in ballot application, fill it out and print it here.
- Go to votespa.com, download the mail-in ballot application and print it.
- Contact the Department of State by emailing email@example.com or by calling 877-VOTESPA.
- Visit your county’s election office and request the application form.
What’s the deadline to request a ballot?
For now, voters have until Oct. 27 to request a mail-in ballot for the general election. There have been efforts to set an earlier deadline, but these have not passed into law, and Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto such the legislation if it’s passed.
Already applied for a mail-in ballot?
Votes can see the status of their mail-in or absentee ballot online. Track your ballot’s progress from when your county receives your application to when they receive your completed ballot.
When will mail in ballots start to arrive?
Most counties have begun sending ballots. This summer, the U.S. Postal Service warned Pennsylvania and other states that cuts to its service mean that mail will take longer to arrive, potentially complicating the delivery of mail-in and absentee ballots. Given this uncertainty, it’s not clear when voters will get their hands on the absentee or mail-in ballots they requested. Voters who want to vote by mail but haven’t requested a ballot yet should do so immediately for the best chance of it arriving in time.
What’s the correct way to complete and sign my ballot?
There are four easy steps:
Warning: Before you write on any portion of the ballot or envelopes, be aware that the secrecy envelope and ballot must not be marked with any personal identifying information on it, or it will be voided.
- Complete select your candidate by filling in the circle next to the candidate’s name.
- Once you complete your ballot, you must put it in the secrecy envelope. This is a white envelope that reads “Official Election Ballot.”
- The secrecy envelope then must go into a larger mailing envelope that is already addressed to their local elections office. This outer envelope already has postage and does not need a stamp.
- The outer envelope has a declaration on the back that must be signed and dated by the voter. County election offices will reject any ballot that does not have a valid signature or date. This standard has been in place for years and was reaffirmed in a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling.
The outer envelope is the only part of the package getting mailed back that should bear a signature. Ballots that are returned without a secrecy envelope, referred to as “naked ballots,” will also be voided. Don’t go naked!
You can find a short video explaining how to complete your ballot here.
How do I turn in my completed ballot?
Voters have several options on turning in their ballot:
- Mail them to the county election office. Election officials are warning voters not to wait to mail their completed ballots. Delays with the post officecould prevent ballots from arriving in time to be counted. For the primary, voters were advised to mail their ballots by the Friday before the election. With the delays, voters will want to mail their ballots at least 10 days before the election.
- Present them to the county election office. The ballots can also be turned in to the county election office. The person who completed the ballot must be the one to present the ballot. When applying for a mail-in ballot in person at your county’s election office, and that county has already printed the mail-in ballots, you have the option to pick up the ballot, fill it out and return it all during the same visit. This is known as “on-demand voting.”
- Turn them in at a ballot drop box. Some counties are also offering additional drop boxes for mail-in ballots. Check here for drop boxes near you.
What’s the deadline for turning in my ballot?
Under state law, ballots must be at their local county election office by 8PM on Election Day, November 3. To meet this deadline and the post office’s advice, ballots should be in the mail no later than Oct. 27.
What if I request a mail-in ballot but decide to vote in person on Election Day
Voters can bring their absentee or mail-in ballot — complete with both envelopes — to their polling place on Election Day. A poll worker can then void the ballot and let the voter cast a regular ballot.
A voter who never received their ballot, forgot to mail it in time, are uncertain if it was mailed in time or misplaced it can go to their polling place on Election Day and request a provisional ballot. These ballots are not counted until the county confirms it did not receive your mail-in or absentee ballot.
However, voters cannot simply drop off their mail-in ballots at their polling place.
I received a mail-in ballot application in the mail but never requested one. What should I do?
Pennsylvania does not send out unsolicited mail-in ballots or ballot applications to voters. However, some organizations such as political parties, political campaigns and voter advocacy groups have mailed application forms to people listed on their contact lists. This is legal. Voters who are already signed up for a mail-in ballot or do not want one can simply tear up any applications they receive in the mail and throw them away.