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October 02, 2020

2020 Election Guide: Everything you need to know to vote in Pennsylvania

Have questions about mail-in voting, polling locations and ballots? We've got you covered

2020 Election Politics
2020 Election guide voting Michael Candelori/for PhillyVoice

Have questions about how to vote, where to vote, and how to get a mail-in ballot in Pennsylvania? This guide for the 2020 election should help answer many of your questions

With Election Day fast approaching on Nov. 3, Pennsylvania voters have a lot of information to absorb to ensure that their ballots are properly cast. The presidential race between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden leads the ballot, but there are several other high-profile races at stake.

In an unusual year marked by the coronavirus pandemic, this guide will answer your questions about how to vote, where to vote and how to track results in the 2020 election.

How to Register to Vote

The deadline for registering to vote in Pennsylvania was Oct. 19

To be eligible to vote in Pennsylvania, you must be a U.S. Citizen and reside in the state for at least one month prior to the date of the election. You must also be at least 18 years old by Election Day.

You can register to vote by filling out an online form, completing a paper application, visiting your county voter registration office, or completing the process at one of several alternative government offices, including PennDOT locations.

To register online, you'll need to have your Pennsylvania driver's license of PennDOT ID available. If you don't have either, you can upload your signature by taking a photograph of your signature in blue or black ink on white paper.

Once you submit your online application, it will go to the appropriate county voter registration office for processing and a voter identification card will be mailed to you within 14 days.

If you prefer to fill out a paper voter registration form, you can download and print the form in one of several languages. Once completed, you must mail the application it to your county voter registration office to be processed. Once it is approved, you'll receive your voter ID card in the mail.

To register in person, locate your county voter registration office or the PennDOT location near you.

Voting By Mail

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, all registered Pennsylvania voters are permitted to vote by mail in the 2020 election.

There are several key deadlines for requesting, completing and submitting mail-in and absentee ballots.

To request a mail-in or absentee mail-in ballot online, your application must be completed and received your county election office, or other designated location, by no later than Oct. 27. You can print the application to mail it in or return it in person, or you can request to have a paper application mailed to you

In order to apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot, you must supply proof of identification, unless otherwise covered by Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting, or by alternative ballot under the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act.

Options for identification include the following:

• Current and valid Pennsylvania driver's license
• PennDOT photo ID card
• Last 4 digits of your social security number

If you don't have these available, a photocopy of one of the following IDs can be used as long as it shows your name, a photo, and an expiration date that is current:

• U.S. Passport
• U.S. Military ID
• Employee photo identification issued by federal, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania county, or Pennsylvania municipal government.
• Photo ID issued by an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning
• Photo identification issued by a Pennsylvania care facility, including long-term care facilities, assisted living residences and personal care homes.

Registered voters applying for absentee mail-in ballots are typically covered if they are in one of the following groups:

• College students who are not registered to vote at their school addresses
• People whose work or vacations take them away from the municipality where they live
• Those with a physical disabilities or illnesses that prevent them from going to polling places
• Members of the military
• People who have conflicts due to the celebration of a religious holiday
• Inmates who haven't been convicted of a felony

Once you've been approved for a mail-in or absentee ballot, received it and completed it, you have until Nov. 3 to return it.

If you return it by mail, your mail-in ballot must be postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day and received by your county election office by 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6 to be counted.

If you return it in person, your county election office or other designated location must receive it by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

All counties in Pennsylvania will provide prepaid postage, funded by the state, to submit your completed mail ballot. You do not need to use a stamp.

How to Check That Your Mail-In Ballot Has Been Received

To track your mail-in or absentee ballot, visit this website established by the Pennsylvania Department of State. When you fill in your information, you'll be shown a table that includes the current progress of your ballot, from when your county receives your application to when they receive your completed ballot.

Can You Vote in Person if You've Already Requested a Mail-In Ballot?

If you change your mind about mail-in voting and you show up at your assigned polling location, you can still vote. If you arrive with your mail-in ballot and the return envelope, a poll worker can void it. Then you can vote at a voting machine.

If you do not bring your mail in ballot, you will be required to cast a provisional ballot. These paper provisional ballots are set aside and only counted once it is determined that you are eligible to vote.

Likewise, a provisional ballot will be used if you go to a polling location because you lost or never received your requested mail-in ballot.

If you lose your mail-in ballot or never received it, you also can ask your county elections office to send you a new ballot and void the old one. If you do this and you later locate your original mail-in ballot, you must use the new one you requested, or else your ballot will not be counted.

How to Avoid Submitting a "Naked" Mail-In Ballot

When you receive your mail-in ballot, it will include instructions on how to properly complete and return it. The completed ballot must be enclosed in two separate envelopes to ensure that it is valid and eligible to be counted.

The completed ballot must first be placed inside a blank, anonymous secrecy envelope. That envelope must then be enclosed in the return envelope that is addressed to the county elections office and includes the voter’s signature and information.

A "naked ballot" is one that is received in only one of the two envelopes. These ballots will not be counted.

How to Vote In Person

If you decide to vote in person on Nov. 3, you'll have to do so at your assigned polling location between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Department of State website contains the polling place data for the entire state. Any Pennsylvania resident can use the site's search function to find out where he or she goes to vote by entering an address.

Several county board of elections sites also can provide this information, for example, polling place specific sites have been created in Montgomery County and Bucks County. For residents of Delaware County and Chester County, voting locations can be found on the state department's website. 

The Philadelphia City Commissioners website has a polling place locator tool, but as of Oct. 2, that data is incomplete.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Philadelphia election officials consolidated polling place locations during the 2020 primary election. The intent is to have voters return to their normal polling place locations – where they voted in the 2019 general election – for the Nov. 3 general election, according to information posted to the commissioners website on Sept. 30:

"Our goal is for as many divisions as possible to return to their regular polling places, where they voted in the 2019 General Election. Of the 1,533 currently announced divisions, 1,379 (90%) will be voting at their regular polling place from the 2019 General Election. If any of these divisions need to be moved to another polling place, the proposed change will be brought before the Board of Elections for approval."

That page contains a link to a partial list of polling locations, organized by ward and division, and the promise that a final list will be published 20 day before Election Day.

The Philadelphia City Commissioners also have published a searchable map, were residents can enter addresses to find out where they vote. For anyone living in a division where the polling location has not been finalized, the search returns "Location: To Be Announced."

If you are voting in a precinct for the first time, you will need to show identification such as a Pennsylvania driver’s license, U.S. passport or student ID. Current utility bills showing your name and address also may be accepted.

For polling locations throughout Pennsylvania, contact the appropriate county election office for information.

How to Vote Early

Pennsylvania voters can vote before Election Day through a process called absentee in-person voting. The period for absentee in-person voting runs from Monday, Sept. 14, to Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, but dates and hours may vary based on where you live.

For absentee in-person voting, you'll need to check with your county election office to determine where they may have established satellite elections offices to enable early voting.

At these offices, you'll be able to request, receive, fill out, and submit your ballot all in one visit before the election.

In Philadelphia, seven satellite elections offices already have opened to enable early voting. A total of 17 are expected to open in the coming weeks.

To learn about options for early voting in other counties, contact the county election office.

How To Review a Sample Ballot

In addition to presidential race, there are several other key races in Pennsylvania, as well as local races. There are statewide races for Pennsylvania attorney general, Pennsylvania auditor general and Pennsylvania treasurer. Depending where you live, there are local races for the U.S. House of Representatives, Pennsylvania state senators, and Pennsylvania state representatives.

To take a look at your sample ballot — customized to your location in Pennsylvania — you can use the tools offered by Ballotpedia and the Committee of Seventy.

Weather Forecast

The Philadelphia area is expected to see crisp, clear fall weather on Nov. 3. The forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with a high of 55. Windy conditions could produce gusts up to 20 mph. In the evening, temperatures will fall to a low of around 37 degrees, with calm winds. 

Similar autumn weather is forecast across the state on Election Day. 

Other Resources and Election Results

The following websites provide valuable information about voting in Pennsylvania and will enable you to track election results.

Voting in Pa
Election results (Pennsylvania)
Election results (Philadelphia)
Sign up for election updates
Committee of Seventy
Read about candidates in Pennsylvania races at Ballotpedia