A mail-in ballot option for all voters is just one of the voting changes for Pennsylvania in the 2020 presidential election year.
With the presidential election just a few weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about whether you are going to cast your ballot in person or through the mail.
While absentee ballots have been cast in this state since the Civil War, the no-excuse mail-in ballot is a new option this year. Approximately 1.8 million people applied to vote that way in the primary, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.
What’s the difference? No excuse is needed for a mail-in ballot while an absentee requires a specific reason, such as an illness, disability or being out-of-town on election day. The deadline to apply for one is by 5 p.m. Oct. 27.
If you are heading to the polls on election day, Nov. 3, they will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Whatever you decide, it’s important to plan in advance.
You only get one ballot, said Michael L. Anderson, elections director for Lebanon County.
If you cast a ballot by mail and later wish to change your candidate selection, it’s too late, he said.
Here’s what you need to know:
Can I submit a voter registration application I received in the mail?
Many likely have received at least one voter registration application in their mailbox recently. They are being sent by outside organizations.
While the Pennsylvania Department of State supports any efforts to encourage participation in the election, said Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, it prefers that voters fill out the online ballot application at www.votespa.com.
Here’s why: It’s faster and more secure.
The online application will be sent directly to the county elections office and eliminates mailing time, she said. It also saves time for the employees processing them.
Not sure if you are already registered to vote? You can check at votespa.com.
When will my ballot arrive in the mail?
If you applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot, you should receive it in the next few weeks. You can check the status of your ballot on votespa.com.
Each county produces its own ballots, Murren said. Counties will begin mailing the ballots as soon as they are finalized and printed.
In the primary, voters who checked a box on the application to be placed on a permanent list will receive a ballot in the mail. Otherwise, voters need to re-apply for one.
Ballots must be postmarked before the polls close on Nov. 3, according to a recent state Supreme Court ruling. They will be counted if they arrive in the elections office by the Friday after the election. However, the ruling might be challenged in a federal court, the Associated Press reported.
Can I deliver mail-in ballots for my family or neighbors?
No. In Pennsylvania, you can only deliver your own ballot, Department of State Secretary Kathy Boockvar said during a recent news conference.
Ballots can be dropped off at local election offices or designated drop boxes.
The only exception is for voters with disabilities or emergency absentee ballots, which can be used if you are in the hospital, for example. Then an agent can be appointed to handle your ballot.
More: Election 2020: Who’s on the ballot in central Pennsylvania?
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More: Prepaid postage will be included for mail-in ballots for the 2020 general election in Pa.
How can I cancel my vote-by-mail and go to the poll?
If you checked a box on your application to permanently vote through the mail, you can cancel it by filling out a form available at votespa.com.
Why did a deceased loved one receive a voter registration application?
Sometimes outside organizations and political parties use voter rolls that are several years old, Murren said.
Under state and federal law, counties are required maintain the integrity of voter lists. That’s handled a variety of ways. For example, the offices receive death notices twice a month from the state Department of Health. They also use the National Change of Address lists and are part of the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to improve the accuracy of voter rolls and increase access to voter registration.
How will the state prevent the casting of multiple ballots?
Only one active ballot can be entered for a voter into the statewide voter-registration system, Murren said.
So when a voter applies for an absentee or mail-in ballot and is approved by the local election office, that information is entered into the system, Murren said. When the ballot is mailed to the voter, that goes into the system, too.
The poll books are generated using data in the statewide system, and they clearly indicate who has applied to vote through the mail. In fact, they also include a separate section of voters who have already cast their ballot.
Voters who cast their ballots in the mail cannot go to the polls on election day.
If they do, they will receive a provisional ballot, which will not be counted if one cast through the mail is confirmed, Murren said.
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What if I don’t receive my ballot in time to vote through the mail?
Poll books will be marked if a ballot has been sent to you. If you show up at the polls, you will receive a provisional ballot.
During the canvassing process, elections staff will check to see if you returned the mail-in ballot, Murren said. If you did, that one will count. The provisional ballot will not.
What if I mail my ballot in, but then die before election day?
It doesn’t count, Murren said.
If a voter dies before the opening of the polls on election day, the ballot will be rejected during the canvassing process.
Will polls be consolidated for the Nov. 3 election?
No, the state is expecting to have the normal number — or close to it — of polling places, Murren said.
The consolidation of the polls only was allowed for the June 2 primary.
Will I be required to wear a mask at the polls?
“We strongly encourage voters to wear masks out of consideration for poll workers and their fellow voters,” Murren wrote in the email. “Anyone without a mask will not be denied their right to vote.”
What safety precautions will be taken at the polls?
The state is helping counties acquire stocks of masks, hand sanitizer, floor-marking tape, plastic sneeze guards and other protective equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic, Murren said. The state helped with that during the primary, too.
How to contact your elections office
Director: Angie Crouse
Address: Elections & Voter Registration, 117 Baltimore St., Gettysburg, PA 17325
Phone: (717) 337-9832
Chief Registrar: Jennie M. Aines
Address: Franklin Voter Registration Office, 157 Lincoln Way East, Chambersburg, PA 17201
Phone: (717) 261-3886
Director: Michael L. Anderson
Address: Elections & Voter Registration, Municipal Building, Room 209, 400 South 8th St., Lebanon, PA 17042
Phone: (717) 228-4428
Director: Steve Ulrich
Address: York County Administrative Center, 28 E. Market St., York, PA 17401
Phone: (717) 771-9604
Contacts for other county elections office in Pennsylvania can be found at votespa.com.
Need help? You also can call 1-877-VOTESPA.
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