Election 2020: A Guide to Voting in Pennsylvania

sign hanging on light pole that says vote make a plan
A sign near City Hall encourages civic participation. | Photo by Sophie Panzer

Election Day is less than a month away, and voting is going to look a little different this year.

No matter who you’re voting for, it’s important to make a plan to ensure that your voice is heard.

To learn more about how to vote safely and securely in Pennsylvania, two Jewish members of Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for better government in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, explained the various options.

“What we try to do at the Committee of Seventy is to provide simple basic information through our website, seventy.org, where we have a voter guide,” board member Adam Laver said. The site features a build-your-own-ballot tool where users can review candidates and ballot questions. Other resources are outlined below.

Register to Vote
Visit votespa.com to register to vote online or download the Pennsylvania Voter Registration Application to register by mail. You can also register in-person at your county voter registration office.
If you are unsure whether you have already registered to vote, check your registration and polling place here. You can also contact your County Board of Elections or call 1-877-VOTESPA.

Know Your Options
The pandemic has made congregating in large groups risky, but in-person voting is still an option. Be prepared to wear a mask and maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others when possible. Seventy board member Howard Davis said most people will return to their pre-pandemic polling places, but advises people to double check in case a location has changed.

You may request a mail-in ballot online, by mail or in person at your county election office. You can request an absentee ballot if you will be outside the municipality where you live when it is time to vote. If you live in Philadelphia and are worried that your ballot will not arrive in time through the mail, you can fill it out completely and deposit it in one of the city’s ballot drop boxes. If you live in Pennsylvania, you can deliver it to your county election office by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Laver said that if you receive your mail-in ballot but decide you would prefer to vote in person, you can bring your ballot with you to your polling place and forfeit it in order to cast your vote there. It is important to bring all parts of the ballot, including the two envelopes.

If your mail-in ballot doesn’t arrive, you can go to your polling place and request a provisional ballot.

If you are already registered to vote, you can vote early by going to your county election office in person and submitting a mail-in or absentee ballot application. The county will process your application while you wait. If the office determines you are eligible, it will give you your ballot, which you can then mark and return there.

As of press time, the Philadelphia City Commissioners have opened seven satellite election offices in the city where you can vote early by either dropping off your mail-in ballot or applying for one and filling it out when you visit. More locations are expected to be announced as Election Day gets closer. To find the satellite election office closest to you, visit philadelphiavotes.com or call 215-686-3469.

Follow Instructions
While each of the options listed above is a safe and secure way to cast your ballot, Laver and Davis emphasized that it’s important to follow instructions carefully. Some mistakes can result in your ballot being rejected.

First, pay attention to registration and voting deadlines: The following is not a comprehensive list.

The last day to register to vote in the 2020 General Election is Oct. 19.

Applications for mail-in or absentee ballots must be received by your county election office by 5 p.m. on Oct. 27 (Seventy recommends sending them as soon as possible.)

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by the county election office by 5 p.m. Nov. 6.

If you are voting by mail-in ballot, including early voting, beware the naked ballot. Pennsylvania ballots come with two envelopes, a larger mailing envelope and a smaller secrecy envelope. Ballots must be sealed in the secrecy envelope before they are sealed in the larger mailing envelope, or they will not be counted. You must also sign and date the voter declaration on the mailing envelope.

Election Results
Seventy board member Howard Davis said it is important for voters to be aware that the increased amount of mail-in ballots may result in a longer counting process.

“We are really stressing at the Committee of Seventy that this is Election Week. It’s not Election Day the way you normally think of it,” he said. That doesn’t mean you can cast a ballot after Election Day, but it does mean patience is key.

“It’s quite possible, depending upon how close it is, that it will take a while for us to have the result. That doesn’t mean that there’s fraud. It means that it is taking a while to count the ballots that are valid ballots according to Pennsylvania law,” he explained.

He added that it is important to have faith in the election system and not to fear for the validity of the process if it takes longer than usual to get results.

For More Information
If you have more questions about how to vote this year, visit votespa.com, an official Pennsylvania government website.

You can also call your local county election office or 1-877-VOTESPA. If you live in Philadelphia, call the voter hotline at 267-405-3401.

spanzer@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729


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