HARRISBURG, Pa. — Registered Democrats and Republicans in Pennsylvania will vote on May 17 in primary elections to pick their candidates for governor, U.S. senator, and other key positions.
(Photo credit: Matt Smith/For Spotlight PA)
Ethan Edward Coston of Spotlight PA
Already, nearly 800,000 people have requested to participate in this election by mail — an option available to all voters for any reason since 2020.
The mail voting process can be confusing and has been made even more so by an ongoing court case and efforts by many Republican lawmakers to prohibit its use.
The fate of no-excuse mail voting is currently in the hands of the state Supreme Court. A lower appellate court struck down the law after a group of Republican lawmakers — many of whom voted for it — argued the way it was passed was unconstitutional.
The law remains in place, and voting by mail remains available to all, while the state Supreme Court considers an appeal.
“Go ahead and request your mail-in ballot for the May primary election,” the Pennsylvania Department of State says on its website.
Here’s everything you need to know about voting by mail:
How do I request a mail ballot?
You must provide proper identification to apply. Options include a Pennsylvania driver’s license or the last four digits of a Social Security number. The Department of State has a list of approved forms of identification online: vote.pa.gov/Voting-in-PA/Pages/Mail-and-Absentee-Ballot.aspx
You can apply for a one-time mail ballot or to be added to the annual request list, which means you’ll get an application each year.
How do I make sure my ballot is counted?
Filling out your mail ballot properly is essential if you want it to be counted. Each mail ballot comes with instructions that voters must read carefully.
- Each ballot comes with two envelopes: an inner “secrecy” envelope and an outer envelope. Ballots must be sealed in the inner envelope, which you cannot write on.
- Once you’ve properly sealed the inner envelope, place it in the outer envelope and seal.
- There’s a voter declaration on the outer envelope. You must sign and date below the declaration.
- Some counties require paid postage, but others don’t. Check your county election website to confirm.
How do I return my mail ballot?
There are several methods for returning your ballot, but the most important thing to remember is that your county election board must receive your ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day. If you’re dropping off your ballot in person or using a drop box, you must use a location in your county. If you deliver your ballot to another county, it won’t be counted.
- Return by mail: To return your ballot through the mail, all you have to do is use the proper postage and mail it out the same way you’d send any mail. Because counties cannot count ballots that come in after 8 p.m. on Election Day, the sooner you mail your ballot in, the better.
- Deliver in person: Make sure your ballot has been properly filled out and sealed, then return the ballot in person to your county election office. Some counties may also have other designated return sites. Use this link to find the address or addresses: vote.pa.gov/Voting-in-PA/Pages/Return-Ballot.aspx
- Use a drop box: Drop boxes are another secure method of returning a mail ballot (guidance from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency says they should be securely bolted to the ground and monitored by security cameras). Still, not all counties have them. The Department of State says voters should look on their county’s website to find a list of locations.
If you have a disability that prevents you from returning your own ballot, you may fill out a form to designate someone else to return it for you. You must turn in the form with your mail ballot application, and the designee must have a copy on hand when they return your ballot.
Otherwise, you must return your own ballot.
Politicians have used instances of illegal ballot returns to challenge the security of mail voting, but these incidents do not indicate widespread fraudulent voting. In fact, mail ballot fraud is extremely rare because of the security measures on the ballot and the strict requirements to qualify for a mail ballot.
Read the Department of State’s rules for mail ballots for more details.
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