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If you have a mail ballot, just use it, Pennsylvania officials urge

Some voters who already have ballots may be tempted to change course and vote in person at the polls. But officials in both parties cautioned against that.

Pennsylvania mail ballots for the 2020 election.
Pennsylvania mail ballots for the 2020 election.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

With anxieties running high around mail delays and long waits while mail ballots are counted, some Pennsylvania voters who already have ballots may be tempted to change course and vote in person at the polls.

But officials in both parties this week cautioned against that, saying voters should simply return their mail ballots as soon as they can.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, and Al Schmidt, a Republican and one of three city commissioners who run Philadelphia elections, stressed that mail voting should be trusted. And if voters who have already have requested mail ballots instead show up to vote on Election Day, that could put unnecessary strain on the system.

“We want people to vote in whatever manner they are most comfortable,” Schmidt said Monday during an an Inquirer LIVE conversation on voting. “That being said, they should be mindful of the decisions that they’re making. And if you’re showing up at the polls, and you requested a mail-in ballot, and you decided not to mail it back, you are adding to the line, and to the work the election boards need to do to get voters voting.”

Voters who have requested mail ballots can still vote in person on Nov. 3 by taking their ballot and envelopes with them, handing them over to poll workers to be voided, and then voting on a machine. But if voters don’t take all those materials to the polls, they must vote on a provisional ballot, which will not be counted until election officials determine later that the voter is eligible and hasn’t already voted.

Those wishing to cast a provisional ballot must also first fill out an affidavit, a slower process that may make “long lines that much more longer,” Fetterman said.

“My message has consistently been: If you have your mail-in ballot, there’s zero reason not to trust that and to use it, whether you trust the United States Postal Service, or just hand-deliver it,” he said.

» READ MORE: What to do if you haven’t received your mail ballot yet in Pennsylvania

A provisional ballot is a paper ballot, “just the same as a mail ballot is a paper ballot that someone was otherwise seeking to avoid casting,” Schmidt said. “The injury, [in casting a provisional ballot] is that you’re potentially slowing down voting.”

“The concern is that you’re potentially adding to those lines, instead of subtracting [from] those lines,” he added.

Voters concerned about ensuring their ballots are received can hand-deliver them to their county elections office or use a ballot drop box — three of which are open 24 hours a day in Philadelphia. In some counties, including Philadelphia, temporary satellite elections offices are also open for drop-offs.

Philadelphia elections officials have already processed almost 400,000 mail ballot applications, Schmidt said, and is on track for about half of the electorate to vote by mail.

“This is the same Postal Service that obviously we rely on for passports being delivered, or tax returns being delivered, or all sorts of other things that we trust the Postal Service to deliver,” Schmidt said. “I feel like a lot of the chatter about the Postal Service in the last couple months is intentionally designed to erode confidence in a way that’s totally unwarranted.”

The deadline to request a mail ballot is Tuesday, Oct. 27. You can request a ballot online here.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered ballots to be counted if they are received by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, and are either postmarked by the Nov. 3 Election Day, or have no evidence of being sent after that, such as a postmark.