The Do’s and Don’ts of Voting by Mail in Pennsylvania for the 2020 General Election

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By Talia Adell Stinson

September 4, 2020

As Election Day gets closer, here’s what you need to know to make sure your ballot is counted.

By now, you’re probably well aware of the significance of the upcoming presidential election. Whoever wins the White House in November will be responsible for navigating how the United States continues its recovery from a devastating public health crisis that’s killed nearly 200,000 Americans—including more than 7,700 Pennsylvanians—and left millions struggling financially. 

Instead of championing an opportunity for Americans to vote safely, however, President Donald Trump has essentially made it part of his campaign strategy to denounce the vote-by-mail process. In recent weeks, President Trump admitted that he has blocked additional funding to the United States Postal Service (USPS) because it will only make it easier for the agency to implement mail-in voting this November. He has argued—without evidence—that it will lead to widespread voter fraud, even as those claims have been repeatedly debunked

To date, more than 190 million Americans who are eligible to vote this year will be able to cast a ballot by mail due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. Pennsylvanians gained that opportunity last year when Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 77, revamping the state’s elections laws for the first time in 80 years. Under the new law, residents can choose to vote by mail permanently. 

In June, approximately 1.5 million voters chose to vote by mail in the state’s, a significant increase from years prior.

Gov. Wolf confirmed last month that the state would fund postage for returned mail-in ballots in order to make voting more accessible. While mailed-in ballot counting takes longer to process, it is the safest way for voters to exercise their right to do so given COVID-19 health concerns. 

That’s why The Keystone has put together a brief list of do’s and don’ts pertaining to voting by mail in Pennsylvania. As Election Day gets closer, here’s what you need to know to make sure your ballot is counted.

Pennsylvania Voter Do’s

Confirm you are registered to vote by Oct.19: In order to participate in the November 2020 election as a Pennsylvania voter, it is important you confirm you are indeed registered to vote. Be sure to have proper state identifications to register via the online form. The deadline to register to vote this season is now 15 days from Election Day, rather than 30 days.

Make sure you understand the difference between an absentee ballot and a mail-in ballot: After you confirm you are registered to vote in November, be sure you understand the difference between requesting an absentee ballot and a mail-in ballot. The two are not interchangeable in Pennsylvania; there is a distinction between a mail-in ballot and an absentee ballot. For the latter, you have to provide a legitimate reason for the request that specifies you will be away on Election Day. If you have a disability or illness, you may also request an absentee ballot. You can request a mail-in ballot for the upcoming election for any reason, as long as you do so by deadline.

Mail-in your ballot as soon as possible: During the primary, tens of thousands of ballots were received late, which delayed declaring the results in a number of races a week later. With the efficiency of mail delivery a concern now—Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (a major Republican donor and Trump ally) installed new operational policies over the summer that slowed down mail delivery— it’s important you mail in your ballot as soon as possible. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 27; requests must be received by your local county office by 5 p.m. that day. The sooner you request a mail-in ballot and return it, the better.

Worried about your ballot being received on time by mail? Take it to the county election office: With the fate of mail-ballot drop boxes up in the air, you may want to consider simply dropping your ballot off at your local county election office. These must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Keep in mind that the person who submitted the ballot request must be the person who turns in the completed ballot submission at the county office. In other words, you can’t just drop off your and your grandma’s ballot at the county election office—she would have to return the ballot in person to her assigned election office herself. Or, she can mail it in ahead of the deadline. The person who voted has to be present at the election office to submit it in person. You can locate and verify details about your local county office here.

Double check to ensure that you are receiving a mail-in ballot for the 2020 General Election, even if you voted by mail during the 2020 primary: When registering to vote by mail for the June primary, voters were given the option to receive mail-in ballots for the upcoming general election and subsequent elections. If you did not indicate you’d be voting by mail for future election cycles at that time, you will need to request a mail in ballot from the PA Department of State to do so in time for the November election. It is not an automatic request.

Track the status of your application and completed ballot: You can track the status of both your application for a ballot and your completed ballot submission online. Just be sure to provide the information in the fields listed to do so. 

Pennsylvania Voter Don’ts

Attempt to drop a completed mail-in ballot off at your polling place: Ballots requested by mail will not be accepted at local polling places in Pennsylvania for the general election. If you arrive at your polling place to cast a vote because you were unable to submit your mailed ballot for some reason, you may fill out a provisional ballot; however, this ballot will only be counted once it has been determined that you didn’t receive your mail-in ballot in time. Your voter eligibility will need to be determined prior to the provisional ballot being counted. 

If you do bring your mail-in ballot with you to a polling place to vote, you will need to hand it over to a poll worker to be voided, and then vote at the machines to cast your vote.

Delay in returning your mail-in ballot: Again, given the uncertainty surrounding the USPS, a delay in returning your ballot by mail could jeopardize your vote. Do cast your vote as soon as you receive your ballot, and return it either by mail or to your local county office as soon as possible, ahead of the deadline, to ensure your vote will be tallied in time.

Voting in Pennsylvania will be different this year than any other in recent history, given the current health and economic challenges. It is important that all voters be aware of the changes, adhere to deadlines, and follow proper protocols to make sure they can use their voice through their vote in this historically significant general election.




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