Election 2020

Mail voting works, but what if you applied for a ballot and now want to vote in person?

If your ballot got lost, didn’t arrive, or you just prefer to head to the polls, here are your options.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

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If you applied for a mail ballot but decided you want to vote in person instead, you’re not alone.

To be clear: the mail voting system is legit. This is the first general election with no-excuse mail ballots in Pennsylvania, but vote by mail has been around for years in many U.S. states, and went off without a hitch before the coronavirus was a twinkle in 2020’s eye. Nationwide, there is almost no evidence of mail voting fraud.

In Pa., just gotta make sure your ballot isn’t naked — aka that it’s sealed in the secrecy envelope and the outer postal envelope — and then sign the back, and everything should work just fine. Many leaders and officials have suggested mail voting is a good idea because it will reduce lines and crowding at the polls, and make it safer for poll workers (who got a hazard pay boost this year).


But it’s fair if you just want to vote in person for a sense of normalcy. Or if you’re still feeling apprehensive. The United States Postal Service, while sure it can handle the election volume, is still experiencing some delays. Plus, there are plenty of national elected officials who have not inspired confidence in the process.

Local officials, however, are urging people not to switch to in person. They say it’ll cause holdups at the polls as workers fill out the needed paperwork, and that mail voting is the way to go.

Here’s what you need to know.

I requested a mail ballot. Can I still vote at my polling place?

Yes, you can, thanks to Act 12, an emergency law passed by the Pa. Legislature in March.

On Election Day, bring the ballot you got via snail mail to the polls, surrender it to the poll worker, and they’ll let you cast your vote on a regular machine. Important note: Don’t forget the envelope! You’ll need to surrender that too.

Also, this will take some time, as the judge of elections will need to complete an affadavit to go along with the surrendered materials.

What if I lost my mail ballot?

Can’t find your mail-in ballot to surrender? There’s another alternative.

If you want to vote in person, head to the polls and explain that you applied for a mail ballot, but you’d like to vote in person. The poll worker will direct you to fill out a provisional ballot — which is basically a mechanism to record your vote while the county ensures that you’re legit.

After Election Day, the county will spend a max of seven days checking that you didn’t also vote by mail. Once they sort that out, they’ll count your provisional ballot.

The downside: Your vote will be counted last. But it’ll still be counted — and you can keep tabs on its status online.

Can I drop off my mail ballot in person?

Sure can! In any Pennsylvania county, you can drop it off at your Board of Election office. Many are also looking into setting up secure drop boxes or alternate drop locations.

In Philadelphia, the City Commissioners opened 15 satellite election offices. Add those to the two permanent offices and that makes 17 locations where Philly residents can drop off completed mail ballots.

You can also show up at any of the satellites and register to vote, request a mail-in ballot, receive that ballot, fill it out, seal it, sign it and return it — all in one trip, on the same day.

What if my ballot doesn’t come by mail in time?

If you already requested a mail-in ballot to be sent to your house, but you don’t receive it by Oct. 6, Philly’s City Commissioners are allowing folks to request a second one at these satellite offices, to receive and fill out immediately.

Can I have my friend drop off my ballot?

Not without a little legwork.

The Committee of Seventy says you’ll have to contact your county elections office and sign an affidavit to allow someone else to drop off your ballot for you — and you’ll have to do it before they send out your ballot via mail.

If that’s important to you, you can call Philly’s county elections office at (215) 686-3469. But quick warning: We tried that, and we were on hold for 45 minutes, then forwarded to 311. You can also visit in person at City Hall Room 142.

Can I just cancel my mail ballot altogether? 

There is a form on the City Commissioners website to request to cancel your permanent mail-in voter status. But it’s not clear if there’s a deadline by which you’ll need to complete the form to have it count for this upcoming Election Day.

For Nov. 3, it’s likely a safer bet to utilize one of the back-up plans listed above.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2020 stories.

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