A lot has changed since the last presidential election, and there’s a lot of information out there (some less reliable than others).
We’re here to help.
Every Pennsylvania voter is now allowed to vote by mail. Want to vote in person? We’ll help you figure out both.
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One thing to keep in mind: Things are changing fast, so make sure to check back for updates. You can also sign up for our 2020 email newsletter, with our best reporting on the election every Wednesday.
Here are some straightforward answers to common questions:
To register in Pennsylvania, you must:
Pennsylvania does not allow people to vote while they are in prison serving a felony conviction.
However, you can vote once you are released, including if you are on probation, parole, or house arrest. Basically, as long as you are not in prison for a felony conviction, you should be eligible. That right is automatically restored when you leave prison and does not require, for example, sign-off from the governor, as is the case in other states.
You can also vote if you are in pretrial proceedings (even if you’re in jail), have been convicted of a misdemeanor, or will be released from prison before Election Day.
The quickest way is to use the Department of State’s online form. You can also fill out a paper application and either mail or hand-deliver it to your county elections office.
Use the same Department of State form, which will allow you to say you’re not a new registrant, just updating your address, name, or political party.
You should check your registration info here to make sure you’re still properly registered and that your name and address are correct. Sometimes, people run into trouble because they forget to update their voter registration after changing their name or moving.
You can register to vote until the end of the day October 19, which is 15 days before Election Day. We encourage you to register earlier if you can, which gives you more time to do things such as request a mail ballot and to address any problems that might come up.
No. If you do have one, it will be connected to your registration so that, say, your driver’s license signature will be used as your voter registration signature. If you don’t have a driver’s license or state ID, you’ll be asked to use your social security number.
The quickest way is to use the Department of State’s online form, which will require a driver’s license number, state ID number, or social security number. You can also fill out a paper application and either mail it or hand-deliver it to your county elections office.
Very soon. Ballots have been finalized and counties are beginning to print and mail them.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court removed the Green Party presidential ticket from the ballot on Sept. 17, resolving the last challenge and allowing ballots to be sent out. But it will take some time for the entire first batch of nearly two million ballots to be printed and mailed out to voters. Even if you applied long ago, your ballot might not arrive until close to or the start of October.
Once those first huge batches of mail ballots go out, counties send mail ballots out as voters request them. It may take a few days for your application to be processed, and for a ballot to be printed and put in the mail. But generally it should be mailed out a few days after you request it.
It’s up to you. A vote cast by mail is worth the same as a vote cast in person.
There are other concerns you might consider, though, especially this year. See the next two questions. And remember that not everyone has equal access to voting by mail or in person, such as if a disability prevents you from easily voting in person.
You might also prefer the flexibility and convenience of voting by mail, including the ability to sit with your ballot and research candidates, and to choose the best time for you to fill out your ballot before Election Day.
From a COVID-19 health risk perspective, voting by mail is safer because it has less risk of exposure than voting in person, though those risks can be minimized by social distancing and wearing a mask. Elections officials plan to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies.
That said, the greatest risk is not to voters but to the poll workers who spend the entire day checking in and helping hundreds of people, usually indoors. You might choose to vote by mail not because of your own health risk but because it lowers the risk for poll workers and voters who do show up in person.
Pennsylvania does have tight mail ballot deadlines that may have prevented tens of thousands of people from voting in the primary election. And mail delivery problems since then have raised concerns about whether ballots will be delivered in time to be counted.
The USPS warned Pennsylvania that mail ballots may not be delivered on time if they are requested near Election Day, prompting the Department of State to warn of the risk of disenfranchisement and ask the state Supreme Court to change the deadlines.
So if it’s close to Election Day and you’re worried your ballot won’t be mailed back in time, consider your other options (see below). And to safely vote by mail and ensure your ballot is counted, elections officials urge you to do it as early as possible.
No. All counties will provide prepaid postage for submitting your filled-out mail ballot, funded by the state. (You still need postage for ballot applications and voter registration forms.)
Your ballot must be hand-delivered by 8 p.m. Election Day or mailed by Election Day and received by the Friday after, according to an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Normally, state law requires ballots to be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day, regardless of when they were mailed, but the court said mail delivery times and pandemic-related ballot processing delays could lead to ballots being unfairly delayed, disenfranchising voters.)
The court ordered mail ballots to be counted if they are hand-delivered, such as at a drop box, by 8 p.m. on Election Day or if they received through USPS by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, and are either postmarked by Election Day or lack evidence of being sent after Election Day. So, for example, ballots without postmarks or with illegible ones will be assumed to have been sent by Election Day.
Still, mail delivery times can be uncertain, especially for last-minute voters, and it’s still a good idea to request your ballot early and return it as soon as possible: If mail delivery is slow or unpredictable and your ballot arrives after the deadline, it won’t be counted. Even if you put it in the mail days before the election.
And be aware that postmarks are not necessarily applied on the same day you put your ballot into an outgoing mailbox.
Yes. If you’ve requested to vote by mail, you can bring your ballot and envelope with you and hand them over to poll workers to be voided. At that point, you’ll be allowed to vote on the machines as though you never requested a mail ballot at all.
If you don’t have your ballot with you, including if it didn’t arrive on time, you can still show up to the polls and vote on a provisional ballot, which is a paper ballot that is set aside and counted once it is clear you are eligible to vote.
(Submitted by Rosina M.)
Yes. This is part of Act 12, the emergency election law passed in March. (See Section 1306(b)(3) or just search for the word “voided” to find the relevant provision.) You’ll have to hand over your ballot to be voided and sign a form.
If you don’t have the ballot, you can also use a provisional ballot, a paper ballot that will be set aside and counted once elections officials confirm your vote should be accepted.
The application form you saw may be outdated — the law has changed substantially twice in the last year, and it’s possible the form you saw was printed before Act 12 was enacted.
(Submitted by anonymous)
If you hand over your ballot, you’ll vote using the same voting machines as everyone else who votes in person. So your vote will be counted because it’s with all the rest of the ballots.
If you didn’t have your ballot and had to use a provisional ballot, you can look up your provisional ballot number on the state’s website after the election to see whether it was counted.
That depends on the county, but probably not. Some counties don’t have stickers at all and never have. We asked a few county elections officials and they don’t plan on sending stickers to people, but in some states, they send stickers with the ballot. Sometimes, they’re even specifically worded to say that you voted by mail. Of course, you could always ask your county office whether they’ll let you pick up a sticker, or mail one to you. They’ll probably say yes. (But please don’t inundate them with calls when they’re busy.)
You can check your ballot status online, including whether your application has been approved, the ballot has been mailed, and whether it’s been received once you send it back. If you include your email address when applying to vote by mail, you should also get emails notifying you of changes to your ballot status. And you can always call your county office to check your status.
Note, however, that the ballot tracker may be off by a few days because of how the data is input. For example, when you request a ballot, it won’t show up in the tracker until the application has been processed. The date it lists for when your ballot was requested is actually the date for when the request was processed. That can be off by several days, depending on how long it took before county officials got to your request. Similarly, your ballot may arrive at county offices but not be scanned in for a few days.
(Submitted by anonymous)
Possibly. When you register to vote by mail, you can sign up to do so for the entire year, as well as to automatically receive applications to do so in future years. So many voters who applied to vote by mail in the primary election also signed up to receive one in November. But you’re not automatically signed up to vote by mail, unless you requested it.
The best advice: just check your mail ballot status online.
(Submitted by anonymous)
Probably. When you request a mail ballot, you can choose to receive a mail ballot either for a single election or for all elections that year. So many voters who applied to vote by mail in the primary election also signed up to receive one in November.
The Department of State did send out a message in August telling voters they are already on the list and do not need to reapply. (We say “probably” because these were definitely legitimately messages, but technically, sure, without seeing your specific one, it’s possible someone might have sent a fraudulent version of that email. But it’s probably real.)
If you're worried, just check your mail ballot status online.
Note: If you signed up for this option, you’ll also receive an annual application asking whether you want to receive mail ballots for all elections that year. Say yes once a year, and you’ll continue receiving ballots to vote by mail.
You can mail your ballot, or deliver it by hand by dropping it off at a county elections office. Some counties are even setting up new offices to make that easier.
Counties might also set up drop boxes, as some did in the primary election, but it’s not yet clear which counties will do that and at what locations. The Trump campaign has sued the state to block the use of drop boxes, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a separate case on Sept. 17 that drop boxes are allowed, so expect counties to announce locations soon.
You can ask your county elections office to send you a new ballot and void the old one. (But if you find or receive your original ballot, make sure not to use it. It will not be counted once it’s been voided in the system.)
You can also still show up to the polls and vote on a provisional ballot, which is a paper ballot that is set aside and counted once it is clear you are eligible to vote.
Counties are allowed to count mail ballots beginning on Election Day — not before. It’s a multi-step process that involves scanning the ballot envelope to make sure it’s legitimate and to mark the voter as having voted; checking voter signatures to see whether they match what’s on file; opening the mailing envelope; opening the blank secrecy envelope inside and removing the ballot; and scanning the ballot itself. County procedures vary, but in many counties they also organize the ballots into batches based on voting precinct, so a precinct’s ballots are all counted at once.
Some of this is sped up through equipment that can sort mail, slice open envelopes, and extract ballots. The last step, of actually reading the ballots and tallying the selections, is usually done on high-speed scanners that process large batches of ballots at a time.
All legitimate votes are counted, whether cast by mail, in person, or by provisional ballot. A vote cast by mail is worth just as much as a vote cast in person, the only difference is when they get counted. In-person votes are mostly all tallied by the end of Election Night, while mail ballots can take days or even weeks to fully count.
This is one reason why it took days to call races in the primary, which officials and advocates worry will allow for false claims of election rigging and voter fraud. That’s been a concern for months.
You can check your ballot status online and if you include your email address when applying to vote by mail, you should also get automated emails notifying you of changes to your ballot status.
You can also call your county office to check your status.
Just remember that county elections staff are constantly scrambling to respond to many different things at once. Your ballot may arrive at the county office but not be actually scanned as received for a few days.
This isn’t yet finalized. County elections officials are working to figure out which locations are willing to open as polling places — some places, such as senior centers, are unwilling to during the coronavirus pandemic — and suitable for social distancing.
Your polling place might not be the same one you’ve gone to in the past, so check back closer to Election Day to know for sure.
Things differ slightly by county, but generally you show up to your polling place, check in with a poll worker who signs you into a poll book, and then you vote on a voting machine.
They might be different from what you’ve used in the past. Every voting machine in the state has been replaced in the last two years to leave a paper trail recording every vote, so none of the machines are the same as they were in 2016. Paper-based voting systems are more secure because those records of individual votes can be audited or even hand-recounted.
If you’ve voted in person in a recent election, you may have used the new machines, depending on when they were rolled out. Montgomery County, for example, used its new system in the May 2019 primary election. Philadelphia debuted its system that November.
Some counties, such as Philadelphia, use a touchscreen system where voters make their selections on the machine, have those selections printed, and then send that paper off to be stored in a cartridge. Other counties, including Montgomery, use hand-marked paper ballots that voters manually fill out, such as by filling in bubbles, and then bring over to a scanner to cast their vote. Some counties use a hybrid model where a touchscreen voting machine is used to make selections and print them to a ballot, which a voter then retrieves and takes over to a separate scanner to cast their vote.
Only if this is your first time voting in that precinct, such as if you have moved to a new neighborhood or are newly registered. Otherwise, you won’t need photo ID and shouldn’t be asked for it.
If your polling place has changed, but you’re still in the same precinct, you don’t need ID.
(submitted by Barbara S.)
When you vote in a precinct for the first time, you’ll need to show identification, such as a Pennsylvania driver’s license, U.S. passport, or student ID. There are also non-photo forms of identification that include your name and address, such as a current utility bill or bank statement.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on November 3. You can line up before 7 a.m., which voters often do to cast an early vote, and if you are in line by 8 p.m. you will be allowed to vote.
Yes. Elections officials are working to provide equipment to poll workers and voters who may need it. In the primary, depending on the county and polling place, this included masks, gloves, tape for marking the floor for social distancing, face shields, and cleaning supplies. (Polling places received slightly different materials, such as receiving either face shields or hard plastic barriers that attached to poll workers’ tables.)