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Myths & FAQs

Myths and Frequently Asked Questions

 

Myths

MYTH 1: VOTING BY MAIL WILL LEAD TO VOTER FRAUD

Fact: Extensive research indicates that election and voter fraud is very rare. There is no evidence of an increase in voter fraud in states that primarily vote by mail. Yet repeated, false allegations of widespread fraud chip away at Americans trust in elections and can potentially discourage voters from casting ballots. In Oregon, voters have mailed in over 100 million ballots since 2000. Of those, 0.000012% resulted in fraud (about 12 cases). For more info, see this research from the Brennan Center for Justice and this commentary from Amber McReynolds and Charles Stewart III, two leading experts in election administration.

We also encourage Pennsylvanians to share the following infographics illustrating critical election security features in the election system:

  • Pennsylvania's Elections are Secure, highlighting features of the election system critical to security, from equipment testing to bipartisan oversight; and
  • Post-Election Playbook, summarizing the various processes that take place starting on  Election Day when the first ballot is processed through auditing and certification.

MYTH 2: IF I MAIL MY BALLOT, IT WON’T BE COUNTED ON TIME

Fact: As long as you fill out your ballot properly and return it by your state’s deadline, it will count the same as if you voted in person at the polls. In Pennsylvania, the deadline for mail-in ballots is 8 p.m. on Election Day. Thanks to a barcode on the outer envelope of your ballot, you can confirm that your ballot was received and counted through the tracking page on the Department of State website. With this barcode, election officials can track who has voted but NOT who a voter has voted for.

MYTH 3: VOTE BY MAIL GIVES ONE PARTY AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE.

Fact: Voting by mail has shown no partisan advantage. Rather, vote by mail has been proven to increase voter turnout regardless of party affiliation. Moreover, broader access to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic helps protect the health of voters and poll workers. For more, see this analysis by the statistics wonks at FiveThirtyEight.

Voter Frequently Asked Questions

WHY IS THE COMMITTEE OF SEVENTY ADVOCATING FOR STATEWIDE VOTE-BY-MAIL?

No one should have to choose between exercising their right to vote and keeping themselves and their families safe. During the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the number of voters who cast ballots by mail will lower the number of people who head to the polls, decreasing potential virus exposure for themselves, poll workers, and others at a polling place.

WHAT IS ON THE BALLOT ON THIS ELECTION?

In Pennsylvania, voters can use Seventy’s Build Your Own Ballot (BYOBallot) tool to input their address, make selections in a personalized balot, and make a plan to vote that can be shared with others. If you live in another state, visit Vote411 or BallotReady to learn more about the candidates on your ballot.

Applying to Vote by Mail

HOW DO I REQUEST TO VOTE BY MAIL?

In Pennsylvania, every voter has the option to vote by mail-in ballot rather than going to their polling place on election day. You may either choose a mail-in ballot or an absentee ballot to request, and you can apply online or by mail. Once you've received your ballot, you must complete and return it to your county election office. Mail-in and absentee ballot applications will be accepted by county election officials until 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before the election. Voters in other states should check the website of their state election agency for details and deadlines.

WHAT IF I CAN'T APPLY ONLINE OR I CAN'T PRINT THE FORM?

Contact your local county election office. They will send you an application in the mail which you can return by mail or in-person to your county election office.

ONCE I MAIL MY APPLICATION IN, HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO RECEIVE MY BALLOT? WILL I GET IT IN TIME FOR THE ELECTION(S)?

In Pennsylvania, the amount of time it will take for a county to process a mail-in ballot application and send a ballot to a voter will vary. Seventy encourages individual voters to first track their application and ballot using this online tool. The second option is to call your county election office directly to confirm your mail-in application or ballot status. Voters in other states may have other options available, including contacting their local elections office.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I APPLIED TO VOTE BY MAIL BUT DID NOT RECEIVE A BALLOT?

It can take several days for an application to be received and processed by your county elections office, especially if you applied by mailing a paper application. You can check the status of your mail-in ballot online, or you can call your county elections office. If you still have not received your mail-in ballot, you can request a replacement ballot from your county election office up until election day. Voters will be required to fill out a form to request a replacement ballot. Homebound voters (ill, elderly, disabled) can use the Designated Agent form for someone else to pick up the replacement ballot for them.

NOTE: The automated emails sent to voters regarding mail-in ballot applications and ballots do not always accurately indicate when an application was processed or when a ballot was sent or received. With regard to your ballot, the dates in the automated email and the state’s online status tool are generated by the production of the barcode label before your ballot is mailed and, after you return your ballot, when that barcode is scanned by election officials. Barcode production and scanning does not always align to when ballots are being delivered and received through the mail. (Barcodes are tied only to you as a voter and NOT to the selections on your ballot.)

If more than a week has passed since your application was processed and you have yet to receive your ballot, you can call your county elections office to request a replacement.

I VOTED BY ABSENTEE OR MAIL-IN BALLOT IN THE LAST ELECTION. DO I NEED TO APPLY AGAIN?

Yes. The annual mail-in ballot list is for each calendar year. Voters must reapply each year to receive mail-in ballots for any elections (i.e. primary, general, and/or special) that take place during that same year. Voters can check their registration status here and track their mail-in application status using this online tool.

CAN I EMAIL MY APPLICATION FOR A MAIL-IN BALLOT?

No. Your local election officials must have the original signed document in order to process your application. You can return your application by mail or drop it off at your county election office during business hours.

HOW DO I KNOW I AM ON THE LIST TO RECEIVE A MAIL-IN BALLOT THIS SPRING?

The permanent mail-in ballot list is for each calendar year. Voters must reapply each year to receive mail-in ballots for any elections (i.e. primary, general, and/or special) that take place during that same year.

Voters can call or email their commissioner to verify that they are on the permanent mail-in ballot list. Another way to verify "permanent" status is by checking Pennsylvania's site.

The Committee of Seventy encourages voters to track their application and ballot using this online tool.

HOW DO I VERIFY I AM ON THE PERMANENT MAIL-IN BALLOT LIST?

The permanent mail-in ballot list is for each calendar year. Voters must reapply each year to receive mail-in ballots for any elections (i.e. primary, general, and/or special) that take place during that same year.

Voters can call or email their commissioner to verify that they are on the permanent mail-in ballot list. Another way to verify "permanent" status is by checking Pennsylvania's site.

CAN INDEPENDENT AND THIRD-PARTY VOTERS SIGN UP FOR MAIL-IN BALLOTS FOR A PRIMARY ELECTION?

Yes. Pennsylvania has closed primaries, which means that voters can only vote for candidates in the same political party named in your voter registration. As an Independent or a third-party voter, you will be unable to vote for candidates in the two major political parties. You will, however, be able to vote on the three statewide ballot questions and on any other ballot questions in your county. Learn more about the statewide ballot questions here.

HOW DO I UPDATE MY ADDRESS BEFORE THE ELECTION?

You can update your address for your ballot online. Be sure to update your address 15 days before the election.

I NO LONGER WISH TO VOTE BY MAIL-IN OR ABSENTEE BALLOT IN THE GENERAL ELECTION. HOW DO I CANCEL MY APPLICATION?

In order to cancel your application for a mail-in ballot, you must complete, sign and return a form which can be found on your county election office's website. Alternatively, you can call your local county office for further instructions.

Voting by Mail

IF I HAVE PROBLEMS FILLING OUT MY BALLOT OR MAKE A MISTAKE, WHO DO I CALL? HOW CAN I GET ANSWERS FOR THE QUESTIONS I USUALLY ASK AT MY VOTING LOCATION?

Call your county elections office. The barcodes included on the ballot return envelopes allow county election officials to send you a replacement ballot if needed and cancel the original.

NOTE: High call volume in some counties may require waiting on hold or making multiple calls.

DO I NEED TO FILL OUT MY MAIL-IN OR ABSENTEE BALLOT IN THE PRESENCE OF AN ELECTION OFFICIAL IN ORDER FOR MY BALLOT TO BE VALID?

No. The declaration envelope is the voter's affirmation, under penalty of perjury, that they are the person who completed it.

HOW SOON AFTER RECEIVING MY BALLOT CAN I DROP IT OFF OR MAIL IT TO MY COUNTY ELECTION OFFICE?

You can turn in your ballot the same day (during business hours) or mail it back the same day. There is no waiting period. Be sure to turn your ballot in on or before May 18th, 2021.

CAN I HAND IN MY BALLOT IN-PERSON? WHERE?

Yes. Voters should check their county website for more information. Make sure to sign your ballot and seal it in the privacy envelope that it came with. Voters must hand in their own ballots.

CAN I COLLECT AND RETURN BALLOTS FOR OTHERS?

No. Voters must turn in their own ballots.

CAN I COLLECT AND RETURN BALLOTS FOR MEMBERS OF MY HOUSEHOLD?

No. Voters must turn in their own ballots.

I WANT SOMEONE ELSE TO TURN IN MY BALLOT FOR ME. IS THERE AN AFFIDAVIT I CAN SIGN TO AUTHORIZE SOMEONE ELSE TO DROP OFF MY BALLOT?

A voter who cannot return their own absentee or mail-in ballot because they are disabled or ill can certify another person to return their ballot if they and the other person complete these forms. These "Designated Agent" forms must be submitted with the ballot being returned. A "Designated Agent" can only return mail-in ballots for voters in one household. These forms can also be used for voters unable to drop-off their ballots because they are in a hospital, senior center, nursing home or other similar facility.

HOW DO I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT MY MAIL-IN BALLOT HAS BEEN RECEIVED? HOW DO I KNOW THAT MY VOTE HAS ACTUALLY BEEN COUNTED?

There is a sticker on the return envelope of your ballot that has a barcode on it. The barcode is scanned when it is received by your county election officials. You can check online to determine if your ballot has been scanned.

WHEN IS THE LATEST I CAN TURN IN MY COMPLETED BALLOT?

Your mail-in ballot must be received by your county election office by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Postmarks are not honored.

Any voter who has received an absentee or mail-in ballot but would rather vote in-person, may bring their un-voted ballot to their polling place, return to the polling place official who will "spoil" that ballot and will be allowed to vote on the machine. Any voter who requested an absentee or mail-in ballot but did not receive it, may go to their polling place and vote by a provisional ballot.

DO I NEED A STAMP TO VOTE BY MAIL IN PA?

No. Your mail-in ballot will include the postage paid for by the state. You will need to pay for postage for mail-in applications and voter registration forms, however.

WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH NAKED BALLOTS?

Put your ballot in the smaller secrecy envelope and seal it. This is the envelope that only says “Official Election Ballot” Put the smaller secrecy envelope in the larger ballot-return envelope. This is the envelope with “Business Reply Mail” on the front. Sign it, seal it, send it or drop it off. Ballots without the secrecy envelope or without your signature and date will be invalid.

CAN THE POSTAL SERVICE HANDLE THE SURGE OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS?

The staff of the United States Postal Service receives special training for handling election and campaign mail. They also meet with election officials in each county on a regular basis to discuss the upcoming election and how to manage the influx of mail. Seventy urges all voters to return their ballots as soon as possible to ensure arrival before the deadline.

WILL MY MAIL-IN BALLOT BE COUNTED? DO THEY ONLY COUNT MAIL-IN BALLOTS IF THE ELECTION IS CLOSE?

Your mail-in ballot will be counted. All legitimate votes are counted whether the election is close or not.

WHEN WILL MY MAIL-IN BALLOT BE COUNTED?

Counties are allowed to begin counting mail-in ballots on election day, not before. This may delay final election results for days or even weeks.

WILL I GET A STICKER IF I VOTE BY MAIL?

This will vary by county, but most likely not. Some states include stickers with the ballot while some do not give stickers to anyone. You can contact your county election office to find out if voters receive stickers, if you will receive a sticker for voting by mail, and if one can be sent to you.

Life Cycle of a Mail-In Ballot

Life Cycle of a Mail-In Ballot

NEED MORE INFORMATION? CHECK OUT THESE RESOURCES BELOW!

Votes PA

Contact Your Election Officials

Our Voter Guide

Voting In-Person

 

WHERE DO I GO TO VOTE IN PENNSYLVANIA?

Polling locations have not been finalized in Pennsylvania due to complications created by COVID-19. County election officials are working to finalize polling locations. For updates specific to your county, contact your local county election office.

WHEN ARE POLLS OPEN?

Polls are open from 7am to 8pm on Election Day. You are allowed to line up before 7am but cannot cast your vote until the location is officially open. If you are in line by 8pm, the polling location will remain open and you will be allowed to use the voting system.

HOW DO I VOTE IN-PERSON?

On election day, go to your polling place, check-in ith a poll worker, and you will be directed to a private area to cast your vote. How you cast your vote will vary by polling location and county. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your county election office before election day or ask a poll worker at your polling location on election day.

CAN I TURN IN MY COMPLETED MAIL-IN OR ABSENTEE BALLOT TO MY POLLING PLACE?

No. Mail-in and absentee ballots must be returned to your county election office.

Any voter who has received an absentee or mail-in ballot but would rather vote in-person, may bring their un-voted ballot to their polling place, return to the polling place official who will "spoil" that ballot and will be allowed to vote on the machine. Any voter who requested an absentee or mail-in ballot but did not receive it, may go to their polling place and vote by a provisional ballot.

DOES MY MAIL-IN OR ABSENTEE BALLOT NEED TO BE BLANK IN ORDER TO BE VOIDED SO I CAN VOTE IN-PERSON?

No. Your ballot can be blank, completely filled out, or partially filled out and still be voided. To have your ballot voided and vote in-person, you must bring all the envelopes and fill out and sign a declaration stating you relenquish your ballot.

WILL I VOTE WITH A VOTING MACHINE?

This depends on your polling location. Contact your local polling location to find out how votes will be recorded. However, in the past two years, all machines in the state of Pennsylvania have been changed to leave a paper trail to record your ballot. If you are confused about how to vote using the method available at your polling location, please ask a poll worker for help.

WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING WITH ME TO VOTE IF I HAVE AN ABSENTEE BALLOT?

Any voter who has received an absentee or mail-in ballot but would rather vote in-person, may bring their un-voted ballot to their polling place, return to the polling place official who will "spoil" that ballot and will be allowed to vote on the machine. Any voter who requested an absentee or mail-in ballot but did not receive it, may go to their polling place and vote by a provisional ballot.

If you already completed and returned a mail-in ballot, you may not vote at a polling place.

WILL I NEED AN ID TO VOTE IN PENNSYLVANIA?

You will only need an ID if this is your first time voting in your precinct. There are numerous forms of photo and non-photo ID that are acceptable.

WHAT PROTECTIONS ARE IN PLACE TO PREVENT A PERSON FROM VOTING BY MAIL-IN OR ABSENTEE BALLOT AND THEN VOTING AT A POLLING LOCATION?

When a person has registered to vote by mail-in or absentee ballot, their voter record indicates they have registered. Poll workers are provided with a check-in book that verifies a voter's registration status as well as their mail-in or absentee ballot requests. If a voter who has registered to vote by mail-in or absentee ballot goes to their polling place, that will be noted next to their name in the poll book. They either need to bring the ballot with them, including the envelope, and have it spoiled (destroyed) by the poll workers to vote, or they will be asked to vote a provisional ballot. If no other ballot had been cast by the voter, that ballot would then be opened and counted.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I AM ASKED TO FILL OUT A PROVISIONAL BALLOT?

You may be asked to fill out a provisional ballot if your voter registration status cannot be verified for any reason. A provisional ballot is not counted on Election Day. Instead, it is returned to the Elections Division and as part of the Return Board process, and reviewed to ensure that the individual had not voted by mail-in or absentee ballot, or at the polling place. Your vote will still count if your provisional ballot is approved.

IF I NEED TO VOTE BY PROVISIONAL BALLOT, WHAT KIND OF INFORMATION OR ID IS NEEDED?

None. If a voter whose signature box is marked “ID Required” is unable or unwilling to provide one of the approved forms of identification listed above, that voter MUST be permitted to vote by Provisional Ballot. The elections board will decide if your Provisional Ballot will be approved.

Poll Worker FAQ

WHAT IS A POLL WORKER?

Poll workers are the frontline workers in our elections -- the people you see at your local polling place who check-in voters, operate the voting machines, and help address voters’ questions and concerns on Election Day. Typically, each election precinct is overseen by five poll workers: the Judge of Elections, the Majority and Minority Inspectors, a Clerk, and a Machine Inspector. Philadelphia is planning to fully staff all 1,703 precincts grouped within more than 700 polling places for the general election. This means 8,500 people will be needed in neighborhoods across the city.

WHAT DO POLL WORKERS DO?

With polls open between 7 AM and 8 PM, poll workers are the first to arrive and the last to leave. On May 18th, workers may need to work well after 8 PM if there are lines of voters waiting to cast ballots. Preparation involves attending training (offered online and in-person in Philadelphia) and studying materials ahead of Election Day. A poll worker’s duties can differ depending on their position but may include greeting voters at a check-in table, providing instructions on how to use the voting machine, and/or working to ensure that health and safety precautions are followed.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO BE A POLL WORKER?

  • A registered voter in the county
  • You must be 18 years old in most circumstances. There are options for 17-year-olds, but they must be separately certified.
  • Committeepeople can serve as poll workers but must remain politically neutral
  • Retirees from government or school districts are eligible
  • Former government employees are eligible but must have left the job more than 60 days before the election
  • District court judges, notary publics, and members of the National Guard
  • Employees of PASSHE schools are eligible
  • Ex-offenders are eligible to be poll workers

WHO IS NOT ELIGIBLE TO BE A POLL WORKER?

  • You cannot be a current government employee with local, state, or federal government agencies, with the exception of District court judges, notary publics, and members of the National Guard
  • You cannot be an employee of a school district or a charter school
  • You cannot be an elected official or candidate

HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M QUALIFIED?

The Judge of Election and Inspectors are elected positions and can only serve within their own election precinct. For other positions, county election officials fill vacancies, a task that’s become far more challenging due to the pandemic. The only requirement to be appointed to fill a vacancy by your count is that you must be a registered voter within the county.

NOTE: Government officials and employees are not allowed to serve as poll workers.

WHERE DO I SIGN UP TO BE A POLL WORKER?

Go to VotesPA to sign up.

WHEN WILL I HEAR BACK IF I AM SELECTED TO BE A POLL WORKER?

County boards are starting to fill the slots soon, so you may hear back quickly, but you may hear as late as the Sunday before the election. Counties will try to place you in your home district. You cannot request a spot or request to be placed with a friend. Applying does not guarantee you a position as a paid poll worker.

HOW WILL MY COUNTY REACH OUT TO ME TO CONFIRM MY SELECTION AS A POLL WORKER?

In Philadelphia County, you will receive a call, and we can confirm that the official will leave a voicemail message. Other counties may reach out with a different method.

DO I GET PAID?

Yes. Every poll worker in Pennsylvania is paid, with some counties like Philadelphia providing a stipend to attend training. The base pay in Philadelphia was recently increased for the general election to $200 with another $50 for training. This increase was due to the health risks associated with working at polls and the need to fill vacancies.

HOW LONG IS A WORKING DAY FOR POLL WORKERS?

Plan to arrive at 6:15 in the morning and stay until the equipment is returned in the evening. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. In Montgomery County, you can split your day. In other counties, you should be prepared to work the full day. When you are contacted by your county, they will let you know what you should expect.

CAN I LEAVE DURING THE DAY TO GO VOTE?

You should plan to vote by mail. If you are not staffed at your polling place you may not have time to leave and travel to your polling place. You can sign up to vote by mail here. If you are assigned to your own polling place, you can vote in person. If voting in person is very important to you and you do not want to cast a mail-in ballot, it may not make sense for you to be a poll worker.

WHY DO WE NEED POLL WORKERS?

In addition to just making Election Day possible, poll workers are critically important to ensure no unregistered voter is able to vote. Poll workers manage issues such as someone’s name not appearing in the poll book or if a voter decided to vote at the polls instead of returning their mail-in ballot. In addition, thousands of voters will be seeing new voting machines for the first time and may require additional instruction to cast their ballot successfully. There are numerous instances where even a little confusion or missing piece of information can make or break someone’s ability to vote successfully.

WHAT MAKES THIS ELECTION DIFFERENT?

Poll workers will be critical on May 18th to not only make sure every registered voter can cast their ballot but to keep everyone at the polls safe. Poll workers will have the added duty in ensuring social distancing and other health and safety precautions are followed.

WHAT ARE THE COVID-19 SAFETY PRECAUTIONS FOR POLL WORKERS?

Being a poll worker is not without risk. Please visit our Poll Worker FAQ page for more information.

  • Voters are not required to wear masks.
  • Poll workers ARE required to wear masks
  • Gloves, face shields, and hand sanitizer will be provided.

DO YOU EXPECT FEWER PEOPLE TO VOTE IN PERSON?

Yes. However, because of the COVID-19 precautions, it will take longer to process each person.

HOW CAN I LEARN MORE AND SIGN UP TO BE A POLL WORKER IN PHILADELPHIA?

Thousands of poll workers are needed in Philadelphia and across the region. The Committee of Seventy encourages interested individuals to sign up online to learn more. Not every applicant will be utilized in a given county, but other volunteer opportunities and ways to support the election are available. The Poll Worker Caucus Facebook group is also open to current and prospective poll workers in Philadelphia and southeast Pennsylvania to raise questions and exchange ideas and resources ahead of the election.

WHAT IF I LIVE IN NEW JERSEY OR A PHILADELPHIA SUBURB AND WANT TO VOLUNTEER?

Anyone interested in southeast Pennsylvania (and registered to vote) should sign up online.