What you need to know about requesting, completing and returning your mail-in ballot

By | April 4, 2024

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HARRISBURG – On April 23, Democrats and Republicans in Pennsylvania will vote for their parties’ candidates for president, the U.S. House and Senate, secretaries of state (attorney general, auditor general and treasurer) and the legislature.

While many voters will head to their local polling place on Election Day, others will choose to vote by mail. All registered voters in the Commonwealth have been able to vote by mail since 2020.

The vote-by-mail process can be confusing and has been exacerbated by legal challenges, misinformation that undermines public confidence in elections, and efforts by many Republican lawmakers to ban its use.

Still, it’s important to know that all registered voters in Pennsylvania legally have the option to vote by mail if they choose.

Only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for candidates in the upcoming primaries because Pennsylvania is one of nine states with a closed primary system.

Here’s everything you need to know about voting by mail:

How do I request a mail-in ballot?

You can request a ballot online, in person at a county elections office, or by mail. Paper applications can also be downloaded in Spanish and Chinese in addition to English. Applications must be received by your county elections board by April 16 at 5 p.m.

If you are not yet registered to vote, you must do so by April 8. Online voter registration applications must be submitted by 11:59 PM that day. Mail and in-person applications must be received by the county board of elections by 5:00 p.m. Stamps do not count.

You must identify yourself to request a ballot paper. Acceptable options include a Pennsylvania driver’s license or the last four digits of a social security number. The Pennsylvania Department of State has a complete list of approved forms of identification online.

You can request a one-time mail-in ballot or request to be added to the annual mail-in voting list, which means you will receive an application every year. You must submit this application for each year that you want to vote by post.

If you have an emergency and miss the deadline, you may still be able to request an emergency absentee ballot application.

How do I make sure my ballot is counted?

The best way to ensure your votes count is to follow the instructions on your ballot, especially when it comes to dating it correctly.

Late last year, Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt announced a ballot redesign that will be rolled out in this year’s primaries. Changes include new instructions with accompanying images, a new yellow background for the secrecy envelope, and a pre-filled “20” for the year on the outer envelope (so voters don’t accidentally include their date of birth). State officials say all of these adjustments are intended to help reduce common mistakes voters make when submitting ballots.

Here are some important voting rules to remember:

  • You must use blue or black ink to fill out your ballot.

  • Each ballot comes with two envelopes: an inner “secrecy” envelope (labeled “official election ballot”) and an outer envelope. Ballots must be sealed in the inner envelope and you cannot write on this envelope.

  • After you have closed the inner envelope securely, place it inside the outer envelope and seal it.

  • There is a voter declaration on the outer envelope. You must sign and date the statement. Make sure you don’t accidentally write down your date of birth.

  • Some provinces require paid shipping, but others do not. Check your county’s election website to confirm and double-check the postage amount as longer ballots may require additional postage.

How do I return my ballot by mail?

There are several methods to return your ballot, but the most important thing to remember is that your county elections board must receive your ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day. If you are returning your ballot in person or using a drop box, you must use a location in your county. If you drop off your ballot in another county, it will not be counted.

  • Return by post: To return your ballot by mail, all you need to do is use the correct postage and mail it the same way you would mail it. Because counties cannot count ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day, the sooner you mail in your ballot, the better.

  • Personal delivery: Make sure your ballot is properly filled out and sealed, then personally return the ballot to your county elections office. Some provinces may also have other designated return locations. Find the address of your county election office or drop-off locations online.

  • Use a dropbox: Drop boxes are another secure method of returning a ballot (U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency guidelines require them to be securely bolted to the ground and monitored by security cameras). Not all provinces have them. The Pennsylvania Department of State says voters should check their county’s website for an official list of locations.

After you have mailed or delivered your ballot, you can check the status of your ballot online. This is because each outer ballot envelope has an individual barcode specific to you. Once this barcode is scanned, it will be recorded that your ballot has been received by mail. However, your actual ballot will not be opened and counted until Election Day, per Pennsylvania law.

If you have a disability that prevents you from returning your own ballot, you can fill out a form to designate someone else to return the ballot for you. You must submit the form with your ballot application, and the designated person must have a copy available when he or she returns your ballot.

Otherwise, you must return your own ballot.

Politicians have used isolated examples of illegal ballots to question the security of mail-in voting, but these incidents do not indicate widespread fraudulent voting. In fact, fraud involving mail-in ballots is extremely rare, given the security hurdles voters must overcome to receive one, the tracking measures to which these ballots are subject, and the vetting procedures states use to ensure that ballots are not passed by ineligible voters voters are cast. and that no one votes twice.

Visit vote.pa.gov to read the Pennsylvania Department of State’s rules for mail-in ballots.

Read all of Spotlight PA’s coverage, including candidate and election guides, primers on misinformation and more, in our 2024 Election Center.

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