Your questions on PA mail-in ballots and voting in person, answered

Your questions on PA mail-in ballots and voting in person, answered

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Article courtesy of 90.5 WESA – NPR Pittsburgh.

There’s plenty of misinformation and confusion surrounding the 2020 general election. WESA reporters are answering common questions about voter registration, mail-in ballots, and voting in person.

Have a question of your own? Email news@wesa.fm with “voting question” in the subject line, and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Editor’s note: This post will be updated as we receive and answer more voting questions.

Important dates:

October 27: Last day to apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot

November 3: Election day, polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

  • Your mail-in or absentee ballot must be dropped off at a designated county location by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 or be postmarked Nov. 3rd to be counted


How do I vote by mail?

Anyone can vote by mail in the general election this year. You don’t need a reason or excuse. If you want to vote by mail, you need to request a ballot. The application to vote by mail and vote absentee is the same.

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is 5 p.m. on Oct. 27, 2020. While you can request a mail-in ballot up to this date, election officials are urging people to request a ballot as soon as possible.

I requested a mail-in ballot and never got one. How do I vote now?

If you requested a ballot in September or early October and still haven’t received it, you can go to a satellite election office or the main elections division office downtown and get a reissued ballot. You can see those hours and locations at alleghenyvotes.com.

If you requested a mail-in ballot later than those dates, but it doesn’t arrive in time, you can go to your polling place on election day and ask for a provisional ballot. They will provide you with a ballot that you will complete and your ballot will be counted. You can see a complete list of polling places here

I had an emergency, and now I need to vote by mail or absentee, but it’s past the mail-in ballot/absentee deadline (October 27). What do I do?

If you planned to vote in person and then had an unexpected emergency, you can still possibly get an emergency absentee/mail-in ballot from the state. Fill out this form as soon as possible

I got my mail-in ballot but I’m worried it won’t be received in time to be counted. What do I do?

First, fill out your ballot. Mark your selections, put it in the white secrecy envelope, place that envelope in the return (or “declaration”) envelope, seal it, and fill out the form on the back of that envelope (make sure you sign and date it!). 

Once you’ve done that, you can drop it off in person. You can go to the County Office Building in downtown Pittsburgh during the week from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at 542 Forbes Ave and return your ballot at the designated location in the lobby.

You can also drop off your ballot at one of the county’s satellite election offices that are open through October 25th. The locations vary depending on the weekend. You can see where those offices are and when they’re open here

If you get your ballot after October 25th, you can drop it off in the County Office Building lobby:

Oct. 26 to Nov. 2: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Nov. 3 (Election Day): 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

IMPORTANT: You can’t return your mail-in ballot to your polling place on Election Day. They will not be accepted and your vote will not be counted.

Can I drop off someone else’s completed mail-in ballot?

No. You can only return your own ballot. If you take someone else’s ballot in, you risk their ballot not being counted. If there is an emergency, such as an unexpected illness or disability, you can fill out a form to authorize someone to pick up/deliver your emergency ballot for you

I got my mail-in ballot but I want to vote in person instead. What do I do?

If you applied for and received your mail-in ballot, but changed your mind and want to vote in person, you will need to follow certain rules. You have to bring your “ballot packet” to the polling place: this includes your ballot and all the envelopes, including the secrecy and declaration envelope. You have to submit your “ballot packet” to the poll workers so it can be “spoiled.” If you do not bring these materials with you to vote in-person, then you will have to vote provisionally. 

Voters will be asked to sign a form verifying that they want to cancel their mail-in application and vote in person, and also verify that they have not already voted. The forfeited mail-in ballot packet will be held and then returned to the elections division.

I didn’t receive a secrecy or declaration envelope or my envelope is misprinted. What do I do?

Some voters have reported not receiving either their secrecy or return ( “declaration”) envelope with their ballot. Meanwhile, Allegheny County says a “small number” of voters received a declaration envelope (this is the outer return envelope) that was only partially printed. If either is this case, you should contact the elections office for a new one. In Allegheny County, call 412-350-4500 or email electionscontact@alleghenycounty.us, and include your na.m.e and your registered address. If you’re having a hard time getting through on the phone, officials say emailing the office can be a more effective option. 

Live somewhere else? Find your elections office information here.

The glue on my secrecy envelope didn’t work!

If either envelope won’t seal shut, county officials say clear Scotch tape or glue is fine. Be careful not to accidentally glue your ballot to the envelope. 

If you do need to use tape, your secrecy envelope should otherwise be completely unmarked. Do NOT sign your name over the seal, or write on it in any way. 

If you don’t have glue or tape, you can go to the County Office Building or one of the county satellite offices with your ballot package (which includes your ballot and envelopes), and request a new secrecy envelope. They’ll give you one, and you can cast your ballot there. The county can also send you a new secrecy envelope. You can call them at 412-350-4500 or email electionscontact@alleghenycounty.us

I received an email that my ballot is on its way to me after I already mailed in a completed ballot. Will I receive a second ballot?

No. An issue with the online ballot tracker resulted in missing data for the column that was supposed to show the date on which a ballot was mailed, according to county officials. Elections offices corrected this by using a tool in the state system to update statuses for those who had already mailed their ballots. That resulted in an automated, “your ballot is on its way,” message. 

Voters do not need to do anything if they received this message, officials said. They will not get another ballot.

I received a postcard/letter from a third party group that my mail-in ballot would be arriving soon, even though I didn’t request one. What’s going on?

You may have received a mailer from a group attempting to educate Pennsylvania voters about the mail-in ballot process. One such group, The Voter Project, has sent postcards to people who have previously registered to receive a mail-in ballot reminding them of their registration status.

You can check to see if a piece of mail is coming from a county elections office or the state by checking the return address. Most educational mailers also include information about the sender  somewhere on the card. 

If these mailers confuse you, call your local elections office to confirm your registration information and status. 

I messed up my return/declaration envelope by putting down the wrong date. What do I do?

According to officials, you can just strike through what you wrote down, and then neatly fill out the envelope properly. You can initial the lines you strike through. Do not use white-out or correction fluid. 

I made a mistake on my ballot or my declaration envelope. What do I do?

Per new guidance from the county elections division, voters who: made a mistake on their ballot or declaration envelope or don’t have/lost their secrecy envelope can get new ones reissued at one of the satellite election offices through 10/25 or at the downtown county office building. You need to bring all ballot materials (ballot and all envelopes you received) to the elections office.


I plan to vote in person. How can I find out where to vote on Nov. 3?

The county drastically consolidated its polling places in the June primary, because officials were worried about spreading the coronavirus and because they couldn’t find enough people to work the polls. 

Officials say they have more than enough poll workers for the November election, and that nearly all of the county’s 1,323 polling places will return to their usual location for November 3. Allegheny County voters can look up their polling place here.

The county also plans to send out postcards with polling place information in October to households that have not voted by mail. 

I’ve heard you can vote early in person. How do I do that?

Technically, Pennsylvania does not do early voting. However, you can go to your county election office and request a mail-in ballot in person, fill it out, and return it, all in one trip. The main elections office in Allegheny County is on the sixth floor of the County Office Building at 542 Forbes Ave. They’re open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

To accommodate anticipated interest in this voting option, the county has also opened a number of temporary satellite elections offices throughout the county that will be open on weekends through October 25th. The locations change depending on the weekend, but offices are open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Sundays. You can see the schedule here

I got my mail-in ballot but I want to vote in person instead. What do I do?

If you applied for and received your mail-in ballot, but changed your mind and want to vote in person, you will need to follow certain rules. You have to bring your “ballot package” to the polling place: this includes your ballot and all the envelopes, including the secrecy and declaration envelope. You have to submit your “ballot package” to the poll workers so it can be “spoiled.” If you do not bring these materials with you to vote in-person, then you will have to vote provisionally. 

What are the rules around poll watching?

Poll watchers must be credentialed by the county, a process that happens several days ahead of the election. You can only be a poll watcher in the county where you live and are registered to vote in, and must provide a poll watcher’s certificate to enter the polling place.

Poll watchers have no legal rights at satellite locations or offices, they are only allowed at polling places on election day and at the county’s canvassing location.

Poll watchers may not engage with, attempt to influence, or intimidate voters, or otherwise interfere with or impinge on the orderly process of voting, according to the Department of State. 

Intimidation and threatening conduct are illegal under federal and state law. Illegal behavior includes: taking photos and videos of voters at the polling place, disseminating false information about the election, blocking the entrances to polling places, confronting, hovering, directly speaking to, threatening voters, asking for documentation. 

What do I do if I see or experience voter intimidation while trying to cast my ballot? 

Voter intimidation is illegal in Pennsylvania, and if you see anyone engaging in it at a polling place, you should immediately report it. Here’s a list of actions that are considered intimidation.

If you see it happening, report it to your County Board of Elections and County District Attorney. 

If you feel your personal safety is being threatened, call 911.

What identification do I need to vote in person? 

If you are a first time voter in Pennsylvania, you do need to bring identification with you. You can find more information on the Votes PA website

Here are the valid forms of identification: 

Approved forms of photo identification include:

  • Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT ID card
  • ID issued by any Commonwealth agency
  • ID issued by the U.S. Government
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. Armed Forces ID
  • Student ID
  • Employee ID

If you do not have a photo ID, you can use a non-photo identification that includes your name and address. 

  • Confirmation issued by the County Voter Registration Office
  • Non-photo ID issued by the Commonwealth
  • Non-photo ID issued by the U.S. Government
  • Firearm permit
  • Current utility bill
  • Current bank statement
  • Current paycheck
  • Government check

Reporting contributed by Lucy Perkins, Marylee Williams, Kiley Koscinski, and Patrick Doyle.

WESA is a partner in ProPublica’s Electionland project, a nationwide media collaboration to track voting problems and election integrity. 

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