Every Pennsylvania voter can vote by mail starting with the April 28 primary, but there’s one reason you may want to wait a little bit: Once you’ve sent your absentee ballot, you’re done.
Unlike in the past, a new election law means any voter who has sent in an absentee ballot can’t then vote in person.
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Once elections officials have received your absentee or mail-in ballot, you’re not allowed to vote in person. (The law distinguishes between “absentee” and “mail-in” ballots, but they are functionally the same thing, and we’ll use the two interchangeably here.)
When you sign in at your polling place, poll workers should flag you as an absentee voter, stopping you from voting.
You can still show up at the polls, but you’ll have to vote by provisional ballot, not a normal one. Because voters have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to turn their mail-in ballots in to county elections officials, poll workers will let you vote, but your provisional ballot is set aside and only counted if officials later determine that you didn’t in fact vote by mail.
There’s nothing that can be done. Often, candidates suspend their campaigns but don’t formally withdraw from the race (and ballot). Plus, ballots are printed in advance of elections, and it’s not unusual for candidates to be listed on Pennsylvania ballots even after dropping out.
In the past, absentee voters who showed up to the polls were allowed to vote in person, and election workers would simply void their mail-in ballots. That’s not allowed anymore, thanks in part to administrative changes like the absentee ballots no longer being distributed directly to each polling place.
The big change is that everyone is eligible for a mail-in ballot. Technically, “absentee ballot” requirements are the same as before — basically, you have to be unable to vote in person on Election Day. But everyone else is now eligible for “mail-in ballots” that require no justification. That created a no-excuse absentee voting system, but it does also lead to some confusion with voters. Just remember: If you could vote in person, you should probably be using a “mail-in” ballot.
The deadlines have also changed. Absentee and mail-in ballots must still be requested by 5 p.m. a week before the election, but they can now be returned until 8 p.m. on Election Day itself. That’s the deadline to have those ballots in county elections officials’ hands, not postmarked or given to the state.