How to Vote in PA Q&A

This year, Election Day is Tuesday, November 3. In Pennsylvania, voters are navigating how to cast their ballots during this pandemic era. Mail-in ballots are an especially attractive option given ongoing COVID-19 restrictionsthough they are subject to ongoing court cases.  

We’re here to help voters understand the mail-in process in the Keystone State. Here are the top 10 questions you might have just weeks before the Election Day in a tumultuous presidential year. 


  1. Who can vote by mail in Pennsylvania?  

Any registered voter with a valid Pennsylvania ID (driver's license, photo ID card, or Social Security Number) can vote by mail-in ballot. If you are not a registered voter, you can fill out this  online application by October 19, 2020.Online applications for mail-in ballots are available at     

  1. How do you vote by mail?  

Pennsylvanians can apply for a mail-in ballot online, by paper through the mail, or in-person at your county election office. After applying, you will receive a packet with a ballot, two envelopes, and instructions.   

Fill out your ballot according to the instructions and insert it into the secrecy envelope. The secrecy envelope fits inside the larger, preaddressed envelope. Make sure to sign and date the outer envelope and mail it by  8 p.m. on November 3. You can also hand-deliver the ballot to your county election office or a satellite drop off location established by your county election office.   

  1. What is an annual mail-in ballot request?  

On the mail-in ballot application, there is a box for an “annual mail-in request.” If you check this box, you will receive mail-in ballots for elections that take place during the remainder of the year. In addition, you will automatically receive an application for a mail-in ballot each year. You will still need to fill out and return the application to receive mail-in ballots for a given year. 

  1. What is the deadline for voting by mail?  

Your county election office must receive your mail-in ballot applications by  5 p.m. on October 27, 2020, according to the Pennsylvania  Department of State website.   

As soon as you receive the ballot, you can fill it out and mail it back to your county election office. Your mail-in ballot must be postmarked by  8 p.m., November 3, and received by the county election office by  5 p.m., November 6. You can also drop off your mail-in ballot in-person at your county election officeor a satellite drop-off location by 8 p.m. on November 3.    

Note that the deadline for mail-in ballots is  part of  an  ongoing court case. Republican lawmakers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the decision to allow mail-in ballots to be counted until November 6—three days after Election Day.     

  1. What are the common mistakes that invalidate your ballot?  

  • Forgetting to sign the outer envelope:  There is a declaration on the outer (and larger) envelope’s back that must be signed and dated. If the envelope is not signed, the ballot will be rejected.   

  • “Naked Ballots”:  A naked ballot is a mail-in ballot that is returned without its security envelope. Note that there are two envelopesa security envelope and a larger envelope that the security envelope fits into. Ballots must be double enveloped, with your ballot sealed inside the security envelope.   

  • Marking Multiple Candidates:  Clearly mark which candidate you are voting for, and do not mark multiple candidates that are running against each other.   

  • Mailing Ballot Late:  If you do not mail your ballot by the designated time, it will not be counted. Note that even if your ballot is postmarked on Election Day, the county election office must receive the ballot by November 6.     

  1. Is there voter fraud in Pa?

Yes, there are proven instances of voter fraud in Pennsylvania; however, the extent of this fraud and its connection to mail-in voting is unknown. The Heritage Foundation maintains a database which includes 23 cases of documented voter fraud in Pennsylvania. These casesmost of which resulted in criminal convictions—include fraudulent use of absentee ballots, false registration, voter impersonation, and altering the vote count.   

According to a Public Interest Legal Foundation  report, Philadelphia removed 86 voter registrants from the records because they were noncitizensbut only after almost half of them had voted in at least one election.    

  1. Do other states allow mail-in voting?  

All states have  some type of mail-in voting, but coronavirus concerns have led  27 states and Washington, D.C.  to expand the number of people that are eligible to vote by mail. As of August 14, 2020:   

  • 9 states, including California and Vermont for the first time, mail all registered voters a ballot.   

  • 34 states, including Pennsylvania, allow voters to cite COVID-19 or no excuse when applying for an absentee ballot.  

  • 9 states will send all registered voters an application for an absentee ballot.   

The expansion of mail-in voting this year is prompting concerns about the accuracy of the final vote tally and the time that it will take to count all the ballots. The mail-in voting rules allowed in Pennsylvania and nationwide could  reshape the electoral map.    

  1. Can I still go to my polling place if I mailed in my ballot?  

No. If you mail in a ballot before or on Election Day, you cannot vote in-person at your polling place. Double voting is illegal.   

If you request a mail-in ballot but decide to vote in-person, you must surrender your mail-in ballot and official envelope to a poll worker. If you do not have the mail-in ballot to surrender, you can vote in-person by provisional ballot.  Provisional ballots  will not be counted until the county election office confirms that you are eligible to vote.   

  1. What other rules are changing?  

In a series of decisions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed for several changes to mail-in voting this year. These changes include:   

  • Extension of deadline  for mail-in ballots: Mail-in ballots that are postmarked by 8 p.m. on November 3, or missing a postmark entirely, in which case they are presumed to have been mailed by November 3, can now be received and counted three days after Election Day.  

  • Approval of drop off locations: Voters can turn in mail-in ballots at drop off locations outside of approved voting facilities. Check your county’s website for satellite drop off locations established by your county election office.   

  • Removal of the Green Party  presidential candidate: The Supreme Court removed candidate Howie Hawkins from the state ballot for improper procedure.   


The Pennsylvania Department of State has also issued new guidance on mail-in voting, including:   

  • End of signature handwriting analysis: The state will no longer discard mail-in ballots with signatures that do not match the signature on file. This means that your ballot will not be thrown out on the basis of handwriting analysis.   

Republican lawmakers  have appealed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision concerning mail-in ballots to the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans argue federal law mandates that elections must be held on a single day, and the Constitution gives power over electoral decisions to state legislatures alone.  

  1.  What is the status of my mail-in ballot?   

You can track the status of your mail-in ballot  here. If you have already applied for a mail-in ballot but have not received it, don’t panic! States had to hold off on ballot distribution due to several court cases, so delays are expected. 

If you do not receive your mail-in ballot before Election Day,  you can cast a provisional ballot in-person at your local polling place.