I Just Applied For, Received and Cast My Ballot in Philly in Under 20 Minutes

Sounds like Day Two at the satellite election offices went a lot smoother than Day One.

This is me dropping my Pennsylvania mail-in ballot into a secure dropbox at a Philadelphia satellite election office, less than 20 minutes after I walked inside to apply for it.

This is me dropping my Pennsylvania mail-in ballot into a secure dropbox at a Philadelphia satellite election office, less than 20 minutes after I walked inside to apply for it.

I really wanted to avoid using a mail-in ballot for the 2020 election. Not because I don’t trust the mail-in ballot process. I do, inasmuch as I trust the voting-in-person process.

It’s just that I enjoy that excitement of trying to be the first person in line on Election Day. (I’ve never succeeded.) The excitement of waking the kids up early to join me behind the curtain. And the excitement of then heading out to our local bakery for a post-vote donut. It’s a family tradition.

There’s also the ceremony of waiting in that line. Chatting up your neighbors. Signing your name in the book. Stepping into the booth to exercise one of the most important rights we have as American citizens. Yada yada yada.

But this is 2020. There’s COVID. There’s the strong possibility of all kinds of civil unrest on Election Day. Proud Boys. Etc.

I was vacationing in Haiti in 2000 during that country’s tumultuous presidential election, and there were armed gunmen roving the streets and shooting from pickup trucks and motorcycles. There were pipe bombs. And, well, I have to say that I’m more than a little nervous that Election Day in America in 2020 could resemble Haiti 2000.

So when I heard that Philly opened satellite election offices where residents could apply for, receive and submit their ballots, I decided to give it a go. One of those offices is just a few minutes from my house in West Philly.

The satellite election offices opened on Tuesday, and it sounds like there were some real problems, as the Inquirer dutifully reported. But, to me, going to a brand new satellite election office on the first day it opens — especially given that we’ve never had satellite election offices like these before — is a little bit like going to the brand new Michael Solomonov restaurant on Friday night and being told that there’s a long wait for a table or that they’re out of the pastrami schnitzel.

So I waited until Wednesday and stopped on the way home from the local butcher shop, which makes killer hoagies. (Yes, we still have a local butcher shop.)

The satellite election office in my neighborhood is inside a trailer outside the local elementary school:

a satellite election office in philadelphiw where you can cast a Pennsylvania mail-in ballot

A satellite election office in Philadelphia where you can cast a Pennsylvania mail-in ballot.

When I tried to walk through the door, I was stopped (politely) by a member of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. He asked me to wait a moment for one of the workers.

An election office staffer met me outside about 30 seconds later, and she asked me all of the standard COVID questions. No. No. Nope. No. No. Nah. No. Then, she directed me inside, where another worker led me to an inner room, the crux of the operation.

On one side of the room, there were a few people with computers seated behind a thick plastic COVID-era barrier. One of them asked me for state identification (according to the City Commissioner’s office, you only need to show I.D. or provide the last four digits of your social security number if you’re registering to vote) — and I handed over my driver’s license.

They had me fill out a mail-in ballot application, which I did from one of those elementary school desks like the one you sat in when you were a kid in Ms. Brown’s class. I just had to put down my name, address, date of birth, and PennDot ID number. There are some other optional fields. And then I signed it and brought it back to the person to whom I had given my license.

He punched something into his little computer and then handed me a slip of paper showing my ward and district number, an instruction sheet, a privacy envelope into which I was supposed to place my mail-in ballot once I had received and filled it out, and then a mailing envelope, into which I was supposed to place that privacy envelope.

Then he sent me over to a woman named Bunny on the other side of the room. Bunny was seated next to a big printer, and after I handed her that little slip of paper with my ward and district number on it, she printed my official 2020 Pennsylvania General Election Mail-In Voting Ballot, seen here:

an official Pennsylvania mail-in ballot

An official Pennsylvania mail-in ballot

And then Bunny told me to go out into the hallway, where there were “privacy booths” where I could fill in my ballot. Filling out the ballot was simple. You just fill in the oval next to the candidate of your choice for each office. Note that there are two sides to the ballot. On the other side, you’ll find those normally confusing ballot questions, which somehow seemed less confusing this time around.

Once I was done, I just put the completed ballot inside of the privacy envelope. Then I put that privacy envelope inside of the mailing envelope. And I filled out some things on the outside of the mailing envelope, including a return address.

I told a staffer that I was done, and after she looked at my envelope to make sure I had filled out all the fields, she directed me to a locked blue dropbox, which a sheriff’s department employee appeared to be guarding.

I slipped my ballot envelope through a small slot on the box, and a staffer handed me one of those silly “I VOTED” stickers. Note that I didn’t really vote yet, since my ballot won’t be counted until Election Day. But I stuck the sticker on my car bumper nonetheless.

From when I walked through the door to when I walked out, less than 20 minutes had transpired, which was actually less time than I waited for my hoagie at the butcher shop. (They’re very popular.) It was super easy and everybody was super friendly. And I don’t imagine I’ll be using those adjectives to describe anything else that happens for at least the next couple of months.

For a complete list of the satellite election offices in Philadelphia, go here.

Equally Informed Philly is here to get you answers to your voting questions, sent right to your phone. Text EQUALINFO to 73224 for a personalized answer, like where to find the nearest polling location to you.