Jig-Bee Flower Farm decorated ballot drop boxes during the November 2020 election Credit: Emma Lee / WHYY

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The primary election on May 18 is fast approaching. Voters will essentially choose Philly’s next district attorney along with a host of other important criminal justice positions and ballot questions.

Polling places will be open across the city, but you can also vote by mail. So far more than 85,000 Philadelphians have requested them, according to the Office of City Commissioners. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on May 11.

What if you already applied for a mail ballot, but haven’t received it?

If you’re in that group, you’ll still be able to cast a vote — but you may need to show up in person to do it.

?️ More election info:

No-excuse mail voting is still relatively new in Pennsylvania. It was approved in the fall of 2019, and rolled out ahead of the April 2020 primary. Then social distancing and capacity restrictions brought on by the pandemic greatly accelerated its adoption.

In the November general election, more than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail, including 370k in Philly. The method faced contention when the Supreme Court was called in to decide whether ballots mailed before but received after the polls closed would count. Justices ruled that they would, but now there are stricter deadlines.

Local elections offices must now receive completed ballots by no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day. Read on for info on your options if you haven’t gotten yours yet.

How do I check the status of my mail ballot?

The Pa. Department of State operates an online tracker where you can check your ballot status.

If there’s a date in the “Ballot Mailed On” box, the ballot is at least on its way.

If the “Status” column says “pending,” that means your ballot is still winding its way to you in the mail — or has already arrived, since the state can’t tell when you have it in hand.

If the “Status” column says canceled, chances are the U.S. Postal Service tried to deliver it, but couldn’t so it was returned to sender.

Can I get a new ballot if I haven’t received mine?

Keep in mind, there’s still time to receive the ballot. Officials just need to have it by 8 p.m. on Election Day. But we get it. You like to be prepared.

You can request a replacement ballot by calling 215-686-3469, visiting the replacement request page on the City Commissoners’ website, or going to City Hall, Room 140, between  9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Even if the deadline to apply for a mail ballot has passed (it’s May 11), replacement requests at City Hall can be made through Election Day, and you’ll receive a ballot on the spot.

What if I never received my ballot and can’t get a replacement?

If you applied for but never got your mail ballot, and didn’t get a replacement, you’ll have to go to your polling place to vote using a provisional ballot.

When you arrive at the front of the line at your polling place, tell the poll workers you requested a mail ballot, but never got it. They’ll help you get a provisional ballot, which will be counted only after local election officials can verify that you did not in fact vote by mail.

After following instructions at your polling location, you should receive a provisional ballot receipt.

What if I got my ballot, but then lost it?

If you had the mail ballot but then lost it, you can request a replacement at City Hall, or do the provisional ballot thing, same as if you never received it.

Phew, my ballot arrived BUT THERE’S NO TIME TO MAIL IT!

Do not bring your voted mail ballot to your polling place.

Instead, return the completed ballot to any one of Philadelphia’s 14 secure ballot drop box locations, at one of the City Commissioners’ ballot drop off events, or in City Hall room 140 by 8 p.m. on election day.

Changed my mind and wanna vote in person. Can I?


Just bring your mail ballot (and the outer envelope) to your polling location and surrender it. You’ll be asked to sign a declaration, and then you can vote using the regular machines.

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...