How to Identify Your Pa. Mail-in Ballot Among All the Junk

Applications for mail-in ballots are seen at a satellite election office at Temple University's Liacouras Center, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

By Talia Adell Stinson

October 2, 2020

Some voters are getting mailers that look like mail-in ballots or ballot applications. We talked to officials about those mailers and how to identify your mail-in ballot.

As a Pennsylvania voter, you might be receiving mixed messages about applying for and receiving a mail-in ballot for the upcoming general election.

Voters in some counties are receiving mailers that appear to resemble ballots or ballot applications.

To ensure your request for a ballot or your ballot itself are processed correctly, make sure you follow directions and file the correct documents. 

Common Sense Voters of America, a new Ohio-based conservative political action committee (PAC), recently sent mail-in ballot applications directly to Pennsylvania voters. Messaging within the application packets encourages voters to consider supporting the Republican ticket for President and Vice President on Nov. 3. 

These mailed applications are legal, however you should be certain to understand the difference between a voter application and an actual mail-in ballot.

Here are a few things for you to keep in mind as the election season continues to heat up:

It’s Not Just Pennsylvania—Similar Experiences in Other States 

Voters in other states, including Minnesota, also received similar mail-in voting application packets from the PAC in late summer. The Minnesota Department of State has confirmed that the applications included in these mailers are valid. 

Are the Mailers Legitimate and Legal?

Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, confirmed that these mailings of applications are indeed legitimate and legal.

“Organizations do not need to register, nor do they need our permission, to mail things such as mail-ballot applications or voter-registration applications,” Murren said. “Some outside organizations submit their mailings to us in advance to ensure accuracy, but some do not, and it is not required.”

In the past, Murren said, “it was common for various organizations to mail voter-registration applications, but this year we are finding that the organizations are mailing ballot applications instead.”

If you receive one of these applications by mail, the Department of State encourages you to compare the application mailed to you to the official application on their website. All applications are subject to normal processing times by the county election offices so as to  verify applicant eligibility.

It’s important to note: These mailings contain applications, and not ballots. 

What About Ballot Applications that Have Been Sent to Dead People?

The Department of State has also received several reports of deceased residents receiving voter applications in recent weeks from various organizations. 

“This indicates the organization is using outdated voter lists,” Murren said. “If an application were submitted from someone who has been removed from the voter roll—because they died or moved to a new address, for example—that would be discovered when the county election office processes the application.”

What’s the Best Way to Request a Mail-in Ballot?

The Department of State “supports any efforts to encourage participation among eligible voters,” Murren said. “Still, we urge registered voters to use the Department’s online ballot application at” 

Applying for a mail-in ballot online “eliminates mailing time by instantly forwarding the application to the proper county election office,” Murren said. “The electronic application also saves significant amounts of time and labor for county election offices that process the applications.” 

With more than 2 million mail-in voter applications submitted and more expected in the coming days, election officials favor any process that enables you to quickly and safely request a ballot. 

How Do You Apply for a Mail-in Ballot?

Any registered Pennsylvania voter can apply for a mail-in ballot online or at your county election office.

The deadline to apply for a ballot for the general election is 5 p.m. on Oct. 27. 

You can check the status of your mail-in or absentee ballot application here on the PA Department of State website.

What Will Your Mail-in Ballot Look Like?

The appearance of mail-in ballots varies from county to county.

While the Department of State provides counties with a basic template, each county produces its own ballots and envelopes. 

When it arrives in the mail, your ballot likely will come in an envelope that has the return address of your county’s election office and some writing to indicate a ballot is inside.

If you have questions about more specific details about the appearance of your mail-in ballot, contact your local election office.

How Do You Vote By Mail?

When you receive your ballot, fill it out completely, using a blue- or black-ink pen.

Put the ballot in the secrecy envelope and seal it.

Then put the secrecy envelope into the outer envelope, and seal that. Sign the envelope.

Put the envelope in your mailbox or your nearest ballot drop box, or deliver it to your local elections office as soon as possible. Only you may deliver your ballot to your election office; a friend or family member may not do it for you.

At this time, mail-in ballots must be postmarked by 8 p.m. (the time polls close) on Election Day and must arrive at your county elections office by 5 p.m. Nov. 6.

However, Republicans are challenging that deadline, and seeking to require all mail-in ballots to arrive at local elections offices by 5 p.m. on Election Day. They are also seeking to eliminate ballot drop boxes.

The earlier your ballot arrives, the more likely it is that officials will count it.


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