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Just days remain before the culmination of what’s shaping up to be the highest turnout in a U.S. election in a century. Many of you have done due diligence to shield yourself and others from coronavirus risk by choosing to vote early by mail.

And now some of you are staring with dread at four fateful letters: “CANC.”

That’s what emails from your county election board will say when your ballot’s been canceled or rejected. “Cancelled” could also be a status that shows up when you use the Pennsylvania ballot tracker.

There are three reasons your ballot may have been canceled, according to the Pa. Department of State:

  • You returned your ballot without a signature on the outer declaration envelope
  • You turned in a naked ballot, without the inner secrecy envelope
  • Your ballot was returned as undeliverable by the postal service

If that happened to you, what are your options? There are two simple solutions, applicable to any of the situations above.

1) Request a replacement ballot and return by Nov. 3

The deadline to apply to vote by mail has passed, but if you got the “cancelled” notice, that means you already applied — and you can still request a replacement.

Do that at your county election board office or a satellite location. Philadelphia’s 17 satellite election offices are open:

  • 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday
  • 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day

At an election office, you can fill out, seal and return your ballot on the spot.

Completed ballots can also be returned 24 hours a day to any of the city’s drop boxes — until Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. Unlike at the polls, being in line to drop off your mail ballot doesn’t count; the time deadline is a strict cutoff.

Another important note: You can only drop off your own ballot, not friends’ or family members’.

2) Vote in person by provisional ballot on Election Day

The alternative is to head to your designated polling place on Election Day.

However, you won’t be allowed to place your vote using the touchscreen machines. You’ll need to request what’s called a provisional ballot, instead.

To do that, you’ll stand in line like all other in-person voters. When you get to the sign-in book, tell the poll worker you requested a mail ballot, but it got cancelled. The judge of elections will fill out an affidavit for you to sign, stating you didn’t send it back already. Then they’ll give you the provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots look just like regular mail ballots, but are counted last.


What if you’re out of state or overseas?

Yeah, you’re pretty much out of luck. You can theoretically request a replacement ballot mailed to you, but at this late date, it likely won’t arrive in time via U.S. mail.

You also probably wouldn’t be able to get it back in time if you did get it. The Pa. Department of State has urged voters against mailing ballots in at this late date, even with the current law that extends the deadline to Nov. 6 for any envelopes postmarked by Nov. 3.

How will my ballot be counted?

As of Oct. 29, more than 3 million Pennsylvania voters had requested mail ballots, and more than 2.1 million ballots had been returned.

Counting these will take some time. Some Pa. counties won’t even start till Wednesday morning. So no officials expect results to be finalized on Election Day — or the day after.

Workers at Philly’s election office will start counting ballots at 7 a.m. on Nov. 3, the earliest they can in accordance with state law. Workers will continue in shifts covering a full 24-hour day until the results have been tallied.

This is how it’ll work: Staffers will first sort ballots mechanically by ward and division, a process that has already begun.

Next, the slowest phase will be extracting the ballots, a process that involves feeding unopened ballots into a machine that’ll open the mailing envelope, and insert the stack into the machine again to slice through the secrecy envelope to reveal the ballot.

Finally, ballots will be unfolded manually and fed into a machine that’ll record the votes.

To chat with a live person about any question you have regarding voting, text EQUALINFO to 73224.

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...