Everyone in Pennsylvania Should Sign Up for a Mail-In Ballot. Here’s How.

You’ve spent most of the past four years obsessed with voting in 2020. Don’t let a virus stop you.

mail-in ballot

Photo by Darylann Elmi via Getty Images

Let Wisconsin serve as a warning: You should take all the precautionary measures you can during the COVID-19 pandemic, including during the all-important process of fulfilling your civic duty. You know you’ve spent the past four years raring to vote in 2020 — so don’t miss your chance, even if the pandemic is doing all it can to hold you back. (And yes, we know that Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign, making the result of the Democratic primary something of a foregone conclusion, but the Senator is remaining on the ballot, hoping to collect delegates and clout for convention time.)

Pennsylvania’s primary election has been postponed from April 28th to June 2nd. Hopefully we’ll be able to leave our houses by then. But in the event that it’s still not smart to expose yourself to the coronavirus by waiting in long lines at the polls — and at this point, your guess is as good as ours — you should prepare for the possibility by signing up for a mail-in ballot.

To help you do so, we’ve put together an easy guide. (And quickly, before we get into it, here are some important dates to remember: May 18th is the last day to register to vote in the primary. And once you’re registered to vote, you must request an absentee or mail-in ballot by 5 p.m. on May 26th.)

Step one: Make sure you’re eligible to vote. (If you’re already registered to vote, skip to step three.)

  • Are you a U.S. citizen, or will you have been a U.S. citizen for at least 30 days before the primary election?
  • Will you have been a resident for at least 30 days of the Pennsylvania election district in which you want to register?
  • Will you be at least 18 years old on the day of the primary election?

If you answered yes to all three, great! You’re qualified to vote!

You’ll also want to make sure you’re not already registered to vote. (This step is also applicable if you can’t remember which county/district you’re registered in, or if you’ve moved recently.) Search for your enrollment information in the Department of State’s voter registration database. (You can do this by name or driver’s license/PennDOT ID number.) If you’re already registered, the database will tell you your polling place, voting districts and more.

Step two: Complete an online voter application if you’re not yet registered to vote.

You must be a registered voter to request an absentee or mail-in ballot, so use this form to register to vote. You can use the same form to change your voting information, if you need to.

You can also register to vote via mail by filling out this form and mailing it to your county Board of Elections office (you can find the address here) or a PennDOT photo license center.

Step three: Once you’re registered to vote, request an absentee or mail-in ballot. 

You can do so using this online form as long as you’re a voter with a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT ID number. The form shouldn’t take more than five minutes to fill out and will request contact information in the event that there are questions about your application. (You don’t have to fill that part out if you don’t want to.)

If you don’t have a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT ID number, you’ll need to download a paper application for either absentee voting or a mail-in ballot and mail it to your County Board of Elections.

Here’s the difference between absentee voting and mail-in voting, which is important to know for your purposes:

  • Absentee voting: This applies to you specifically if you plan to be out of the municipality where you are registered to vote on election day — or if you have a disability or illness that prevents you from getting to the polls. You’ll need to list a reason for requesting an absentee ballot.
  • Mail-in ballot: Everyone can sign up for a mail-in ballot and vote by mail. You don’t need a reason to request this ballot. You can get one simply because you want to mail in your vote to ensure you don’t need to go to the polls on voting day.

You can find the paper application form for absentee voting right here. Alternatively, you can find the paper application form for a mail-in ballot here.

If you’re a military or overseas voter, you must apply for an absentee ballot using this federal form. You’ll have to mail it to your election address — which you can find here.

Step four: Wait for your request to be accepted, then vote by mail.

If you fill out the online application, you will receive an application number. Hold onto that number, and take a photo of — or print out — your confirmation page for your records.

You’ll also have the option to request to be added to an annual mail-in ballot request list. This will ensure that you receive an application to renew your mail-in ballot request each year. When your application is approved, you’ll receive ballots for elections held during the remainder of the year you applied.

But first: Your application isn’t considered complete until your county election office processes and accepts it. When that happens, your balloting materials will be mailed when the ballot is available. You’ll receive an update via email if you provided an email address (and you’ll have another chance to provide one on the confirmation page).

If you lose your mail-in ballot, you can still vote at the polls. But if you send in your mail-in ballot and it’s received by the voting deadline, you will not be allowed to vote at your polling place.

Finally, so you’re aware: Your ballot must be completed and must be received in the county office by 8 p.m. on Election Day. If it’s late, it won’t be accepted, even if you sent it before the deadline. Try to send it as early as possible to ensure your vote is counted.

If you have any remaining questions about applying for absentee voting or a mail-in ballot, contact your elections office. If you live in Philadelphia, you can reach the county elections office by calling 215-686-1509.