More News:

October 29, 2020

Pa. voters need to deposit mail-in ballots at drop boxes; it's too late to depend on the post office

Amid USPS delays and Supreme Court challenge, state officials stress importance of in-person drop-offs

2020 Election Voting
Pennsylvania Mail-In Secure Ballots Jon Tuleya/for PhillyVoice

Pennsylvania voters submitting mail-in ballots cannot rely on USPS to ensure that they are received and counted on time. Voters instead are urged to drop remaining mail-in ballots at secure drop box locations.

Pennsylvania voters who have not yet submitted a mail-in ballot are now being instructed to do so at a ballot drop box or county election office. 

With less than a week remaining before the Nov. 3 election, the United States Postal Service cannot be depended upon to deliver the ballot on time, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said.

 A combination of factors have led to the instruction, including significant USPS delays impacting mail delivery throughout the state and much of the country.

In the Philadelphia area, just 42% of all first-class mail is being delivered on time, and other parts of Pennsylvania are not faring much better

There is no guarantee that a ballot submitted via USPS would arrive by Nov. 3 or by Nov. 6, the state's three-day extension window affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month.

The state Republican party is still pushing to have that extension rolled back, asking the court to reinstate Nov. 3 as the firm deadline to receive ballots. If that changes before the election, any ballots not delivered by Nov. 3 would not be counted – even if they were postmarked before the election.

Boockvar made clear on Wednesday that voters should not rely on USPS.

“At this point we are not recommending that anybody put their ballots in the mail, just drop it off in person,” Boockvar told reporters, via the Associated Press. “We really recommend that you drop it off in person.”

The other option would be for voters to cast a provisional ballot at the polls on Election Day, which will require that any unreturned mail-in ballot be voided.

The deadline to request a mail-in or absentee ballot in Pennsylvania was Tuesday. Voters in the state applied for approximately 3.1 million mail-in ballots. About two million had been returned as of Wednesday, meaning a sizable population of voters must take extra precautions to ensure that their ballots are received and counted. 

Where To Drop off Ballots in Person

Voters have a number of options to drop off ballots in person.

Each county has secure ballot drop boxes that can be located using the search tool provided by the Department of State.

We've rounded up drop box locations and hours for residents of Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware counties.

County election offices also are valid places to return a completed mail-in ballot.

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 Department of State website contains the polling place data for the entire state. Pennsylvania residents can use the site's search function to find out where they must go to vote by entering their address.

Voters also can visit their county's election website for polling location information.

Philadelphia residents, for example, can enter a residential address at this website to determine the appropriate polling location. 

How to Vote in Person if You've Already Requested or Sent a Mail-In Ballot

If you requested a mail-in ballot, but you change your mind and 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 it's determined during ballot counting that you returned your mail-in ballot, that's the one that will be tallied. The provisional ballot will not be counted.

To determine whether your mail-in ballot has been received, you can check the delivery status using this Department of State search tool.

If in doubt, you can cast a provisional ballot on Nov. 3 that will be counted in the event that your mail-in ballot was never received. 

The safest bet, if you have not already mailed your completed ballot, would be to drop it off at a secure box in your county ahead of Election Day.