Decision 2020

When Will Mail-in Ballots Be Sent? How Do I Apply? Answers for Pa. Voters

The battleground state in the Nov. 3 presidential election is expected to receive millions of mail-in ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about the U.S. Postal Service.

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Nearly 1.5 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail-in ballot in the primary election, and that number is expected to be even higher in the Nov. 3 presidential election as the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of easing.

Yet concerns about the funding of the U.S. Postal Service and its ability to meet the high demands of the election because of the mail-in ballot surge have many Pennsylvania voters wondering how the process will work and if their vote will be counted.

Election officials at both county and the state governments are already working on ensuring there is enough manpower and equipment to get every mail-in ballot shipped out, received back and then counted in a timely fashion. In places like Philadelphia, officials plan to bring in city employees from other departments to help with the mail-in surge. Meanwhile, volunteers who will man the polling places are being trained.

Here are questions and answers to help voters as Election Day approaches, based information from election officials in Pennsylvania.

How can I apply for a mail-in ballot if I have not yet?

Three ways: online, by mail or by phone. Applying for a mail-in ballot online is the quickest way, but requires a driver's license or state-issued form of identification. Online applications can be found at county board of election websites like Philadelphia's (found HERE) or at the Pennsylvania Department of State's PA Votes website (found HERE) Applications by mail or by phone are done through your county board of elections office.

When will I receive my mail-in ballot if I've already applied for one?

If you've already submitted your application for a mail-in ballot, you will receive a confirmation email (if you provided an email with the application) that your application was received. Officials recommend providing an email because you will receive notifications from the county election board along the way, including when they receive your submitted ballot and when your ballot is officially counted. The actual ballot will not be sent out for at least a few more weeks in Pennsylvania. The state Legislature is expected to weigh changes to the current deadlines, including when ballots can be postmarked returned and how long counties have to tally votes. Other deadlines, including the last day to register to vote (Oct. 19), are still pending as well.

What is the deadline for applying for a mail-in ballot?

The current deadline is seven days before the Nov. 3 election. But election officials say that date is unrealistic, in part because of the unpredictability of the U.S. Postal Service's mail service. Many counties are advocating state lawmakers to move up that deadline to at least 15 days before the election. So stay tuned.

Should I be concerned that my mail-in ballot won't be counted?

Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order just before the primary election in June that allowed counties to continue counting the overwhelming surge of mail-in ballots for seven days after the election. State lawmakers are expected to consider adopting that into law when they return to Harrisburg this month, or Wolf could issue another order ahead of the election. In any case, county officials are preparing for a massive influx of mail-in ballots and are working on a workflow that allows for a quicker process of counting the millions of those ballots cast in November. What election officials want most voters to know: Once you get your ballot, fill it out and put it in the mail as soon as possible to avoid any deadlines.

What if I already signed up for a mail-in ballot, but want to vote in-person?

You can still vote in-person at your assigned polling place. You must bring your mail-in ballot with you and a poll worker will destroy it. Once it is destroyed, you can then sign in and vote at a ballot box. If you do not have your mail-in ballot when you arrive at the polling place, you can still vote. However, the poll worker will have you fill out a provisional ballot.

What if I don’t get my mail-in ballot?

Breathe easy: You can go to your assigned polling place and vote in-person by filling out a provisional ballot if you have not received your mail-in ballot. There is also the possibility that your name will be on the voter rolls at the polling place.

Will drop-off boxes be available for ballots?

The Trump re-election campaign has filed a lawsuit against every Pennsylvania county as well as the Wolf administration seeking to bar the use of drop-off boxes in the Nov. 3 election. Their use is up in the air pending the outcome of that lawsuit. If they are allowed, it will likely be up to the individual counties to determine if drop-off boxes will be used and how many. Counties may sidestep the lawsuit by setting up temporary board of election offices in order to receive mail-in ballots directly from voters, one election official said. The Trump campaign's lawyers contend that drop-off boxes circumvent Pennsylvania election law requiring certain "chain of custody."

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