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Planning to vote by mail in the May 18 municipal primary? Here's what you need to know

The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is May 11. Nearly 600,000 Pennsylvanians have already applied for a mail-in ballot, the state says.
Credit: AP
Mail-in ballots for the 2020 General Election in the United States are seen before being sorted at the Chester County Voter Services office, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in West Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

HARRISBURG, Pa. — On Tuesday, Acting Secretary of State Veronica W. Degraffenreid urged Pennsylvanians who plan to vote by mail in the May 18 municipal primary to apply for their ballot well in advance of the May 11 deadline.

“Voters who wish to vote by mail ballot should apply now so that they will receive their ballot from their county as soon as it is available," Degraffenreid said. "Then they can fill it out and return it well before Election Day.

"This is a secure, convenient and accessible voting option that allows eligible Pennsylvanians to vote in the privacy of their own home.”

More than 597,000 voters already have applied for mail-in ballots for the primary election, and more than 19,000 voters have applied for absentee ballots, Degraffenreid said.

To vote by mail, remember these tips and requirements:

  • Anyone registered to vote is eligible to vote by mail. The deadline to register to vote in the May 18 primary is May 3. Pennsylvanians can register to vote or check their registration status at votesPA.com.
  • Anyone who plans to vote by mail must apply for a mail ballot. Voters can apply online or print a paper application at votesPA.com and return it to their county board of elections.
  • Mail ballot applications must be received by the county board of election by 5 p.m. May 11, but voters are urged to apply now, so they have plenty of time to receive and return their ballot before the election.
  • If you requested to be added to the annual mail-in ballot request list and returned the annual application mailed to you in February, you do not need to reapply for a mail ballot. You will receive one when your county has finalized and printed the ballot.
  • Voters can track the status of their mail ballot at votesPA.com.
  • While applying for an absentee ballot still requires the voter to provide a reason, mail-in voting does not.
  • Once the voter’s application for a mail ballot is verified, their county election office will mail them a ballot after they have been finalized and printed.
  • As soon as the voter receives the ballot, the voter should:
    • Read the instructions carefully.
    • Fill out the ballot, being sure to follow instructions on how to mark selections.
    • Seal the ballot in the inner secrecy envelope that says, “official ballot.” Be sure not to make any stray marks on the envelope.
    • Then seal the inner secrecy envelope in the pre-addressed outer return envelope.
    • Sign and date the voter’s declaration on the outside of the outer return envelope.
      • If the ballot is not enclosed in both envelopes, it will not be counted.
      • If the voter does not sign and date the outer envelope, the ballot will not be counted.
  • The voter should return their voted ballot to their county board of elections as soon as possible.
  • Voters can mail their ballot. Mailed ballots must be received in the county election office by 8 p.m. on May 18, Election Day.
  • Voters can hand-deliver their ballot to their county election office or other officially designated site. Hand-delivered ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, May 18. Some counties are providing drop-boxes or drop-off sites for mail ballots. Check your county’s website for information on locations. The Department of State will post a list of drop-off locations as the information becomes available. Check votesPA.com in the coming weeks.
  • Under Pennsylvania law, voters may only return their own ballots. The only exceptions to this are for voters with a disability who have designated someone in writing to deliver their ballot, or for voters who are hospitalized or need an emergency absentee ballot.
  • Voters who provide an email address on their mail ballot application will get notifications from their county when their ballot has processed and is mailed, returned, and counted.
  • If a voter submits a voted mail ballot, they cannot vote at the polls on election day.
  • Voters who apply for and receive a mail ballot and then decide they want to vote in person at the polls must bring their entire unvoted mail ballot packet with them to be voided, including both envelopes. If a voter surrenders their entire mail ballot packet, they will be able to vote a regular ballot at the polls.
  • If a voter applies for a mail ballot but does not return it and does not have the entire packet to surrender at the polling place, they may vote by provisional ballot at the polls on Election Day. Their county board of elections will then verify that they didn’t vote by mail before counting their provisional ballot.

Degraffenreid said that eligible voters also have two other voting options:

  • After ballots are printed by the counties in the coming weeks, voters can go in person to their county election office, request a mail-in ballot, fill it out and return it on the spot – all in one visit. This option is only available until the mail-in ballot application deadline of May 11.
  • If a voter has not voted by mail or in person ahead of the election, they can vote at the polls on election day between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. They should wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines.

“Whichever secure voting method you choose, the most important thing is to vote and let your voice be heard,” Degraffenreid said. “Municipal elections affect the daily life of every voter because local officials make taxation, zoning, road maintenance, school curriculum and many other important decisions.” 

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