The presidential election is only days away, but even if you’ve requested a mail-in ballot, you can still vote in person – just make sure to not rip up the ballot first.
More people than ever before will cast their vote by mail this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but slow-downs within the US Postal Service have many worried that their ballot won’t arrive to their elections office on time to be counted, which is why they want to vote in person.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf and state election officials are saying that, at this point, there's no guarantee that a mailed ballot will arrive at a county elections office on time. For that reason, they're encouraging people who haven't mailed their ballot yet to "just walk it in" as soon as possible, and ideally before Nov. 3.
Why is this so important?
In Pennsylvania, for example, a mailed ballot that is postmarked by Nov. 3 can still be counted even if it arrives to your county election office by Nov. 6 (and yes, as you can probably guess, this means we may not know the official results of the election until after Election Day). But let’s say the mail is slow and your ballot doesn’t arrive until Nov. 7; that means that your vote doesn’t count through no fault of your own.
What’s more, President Donald Trump’s administration is currently suing various states to limit the deadlines by which mail-in votes can be counted. The administration already got a win when the conservative majority in the Supreme Court ruled that Wisconsin could not accept mail-in ballots that arrive up to six days after Election Day.
Thankfully, there are various ways you can circumvent the Post Office altogether, and you don’t even have to wait until Nov. 3.
Mail-In Voting: What to Know
Here’s your guide to voting in-person using your mail-in ballot in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, plus what you can do if you requested a mail-in ballot but never got it or lost it, if you just made a mistake and want to fix it or if there is simply an error in the poll books.
Pennsylvania Mail-in Ballots
If you’ve got your ballot, you can head over to your county election office (click here to find it) and drop it off there. Some counties, including Philadelphia, have also set up so-called satellite election offices, where you can also drop off your mail-in ballot. HERE are all locations and hours of the drop boxes and satellite offices accepting mail-in ballots through Election Day.
The times and dates for when satellite election offices open are not uniform, so you should check your local county’s election website to see when you can go.
Another method you can try is the secure ballot drop box, which is exactly what it sounds like. You just walk up, drop your ballot in at any time and walk away without even having to interact with anyone.
Remember, though, if you use a drop box, you have to use one in the county where you’re registered to vote, and your ballot has to be in the box by 8 p.m., which is when the boxes are locked. Also, you can’t drop off some else’s ballot unless that person has a disability that prevents them from dropping the ballot off themselves. If that’s the case, you’ll need to fill out this form.
Some people have reported that they never received their mail-in ballot. If that happened to you, you can go to your county election office and they can issue you a new one. But you need to do that as soon as possible.
In the Philadelphia region specifically, different counties have different ways of issuing a replacement ballot, so here's a breakdown:
- Philadelphia: You can go to any of the 17 satellite election offices and ask for a replacement ballot.
- Lehigh County: Officials here are issuing backup “B” ballots at the voter office at the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown.
- Bucks County: The county is printing mail ballots on demand at the election offices in Doylestown, Quakertown, and Levittown.
- Chester County: Go to election website and make a mail-in ballot inquiry, sending in your question about not receiving your mail-in ballot. Their voter services team will then respond with the status of your ballot and what to do.
If you still want to vote in person at your polling place on Election Day and you haven’t submitted your mail-in ballot yet, here’s what you should do:
- Take your ballot, including the return envelope in which it came, and go to your polling place. Once there, a worker will take your mail-in ballot, void it and give you a regular one to fill out.
- Now, let’s say you lost, forgot or never received your mail-in ballot and you're waiting to vote on Nov. 3, or there’s an error in the poll books (even just moving to a new home within your county and forgetting to tell your county election office your new address can count as an error). If that’s the case, you’ll be given a provisional ballot when you arrive at your polling place.
When you vote via a provisional ballot, a county election worker has to verify within seven days after the election whether you were eligible to vote. If you were eligible, your vote is counted, but since time is of the essence in this election, you’ll want to try to avoid having to fill out a provisional ballot if you can. You can track your provisional ballot here or by calling 1-877-VOTESPA.
In Pennsylvania, the deadline to return your mail-in ballot, even if you’re dropping it off in person, is 8 p.m. on Election Day. If you’ve returned it the old fashioned way, it may still count as long as it arrives by Nov. 6. But, again, President Trump’s administration is challenging this, so it’s best to just get your ballot in as soon as possible.
New Jersey Mail-in Ballots
The convenient thing about New Jersey is people didn’t even have to apply for a mail-in ballot; if they were already registered to vote, they got one automatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The process in the Garden State is similar but not entirely the same as in Pennsylvania. If you’ve got your mail-in ballot, you can drop it off either at your polling place, county election office, or drop box.
If you still want to mail in the ballot, though, you have a little more wiggle room than Pennsylvania residents. In New Jersey, ballots will be counted as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by a county elections office by Nov. 10. Again, though, if you’re going the snail mail route, it’s better to turn in your ballot as soon as possible.
Like in Pennsylvania, there are also a myriad of reasons why you may be forced to complete a provisional ballot in New Jersey. When doing so, you’ll go to your polling place and be given a provisional ballot by an election worker. Your vote won’t be counted until polls close. To find out if your provisional ballot counted, you can call 1-877-NJVOTER (1-877-658-6837).
Delaware Mail-in Ballots
Now, let’s say you requested a mail-in ballot but haven’t turned it in and want to vote in person at your polling place on Election Day. If that happens, an election worker will void your unreturned mail-in ballot and allow you to vote in person at your polling place.
Now let’s say there’s an error in the poll books and you have to vote through a provisional ballot at your polling place. When that happens, bring a form of ID and something that shows your address. This can include your state ID, copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows your name and address. You can track your provisional ballot here.
The 2020 presidential election will be one of the most consequential in our lifetime, and voting is already underway. You can make your voice heard by using NBC10's voter's guide here.
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