A "vote here" sign indicating a Philadelphia polling location in May 2023. (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

Election Day will soon be upon us, so now’s the time to get your ducks in a row so you can participate in the great experiment that is American democracy. 

Here’s everything Philadelphians need to know to cast a ballot on Nov. 7. 

Tip: If you’re already in the know, send this to a friend or colleague who might be able to use it to exercise their power at the polls.

How do I know if I’m registered to vote?

Pennsylvania’s Department of State has an online portal you can use to see if you’re registered. 

Click here to check

When is the deadline to register?

The deadline to register to vote is typically a few weeks before the election. This year the last day you can register is Monday, Oct. 23. 

Can I register online?

Yes. You’ll have to fill out a state form that asks some basic questions. You can find it here

What about doing it in person?

You have two options to register in person. 

You can head to Philadelphia’s voter registration office on Delaware Avenue (officially 520 N. Columbus Blvd.), on the fifth floor of the Riverview Place office building. The office is open from 8:30-5 on weekdays. 

Alternatively, you can register to vote at any PennDOT photo or driver’s license center.

What documents do I need?

To register to vote, you’ll need either your Pa. driver’s license, PennDOT ID card, or your Social Security number. 

I just moved, can I register?

Typically, yes. You can vote in Philly if you become a city resident at least 30 days before the election (this year, Oct. 7).

But if you’re newer to the city — first of all, welcome! — you’ll need to vote via absentee ballot at your previous place of residence.

Can I register if I’m 17 years old?

The answer all depends on when you turn 18, the legal voting age. As long as you’ll be 18 by November 7, you can register to participate in your first election. 

I’m an independent/unaffiliated with any major party. Can I vote?

Yes, any registered voter can vote in a general election. 

The commonwealth’s closed primary system shuts out independent and unaffiliated voters during primary elections, but everyone has a say in November elections.

Where’s my polling place?

You can find your correct polling place through the city’s Atlas tool (here) or a DOS-run portal (here). 

Where do I find a sample ballot?

You can find a sample ballot on the same site where you locate the correct polling place: the city’s Atlas mapping tool. 

Access the voting-oriented part of the tool here. Once you enter your address, hit the link right under the box displaying the coming elections that says “Preview ballot.” That will take you to a sample of what you’ll see in the voting booth come Election Day. 

Should I vote by mail or in person?

The choice is yours as your vote will count all the same. If you do want to vote by mail and haven’t already signed up to receive mail ballots, you’ll have to apply to receive one. 

You can do so here, and you must submit your application by 5 p.m. on Oct. 31.

As with in-person voting, Nov. 7 is the big day — your ballot must be returned (i.e. collected via mail, drop box, or in person to the county election office) by 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

What if I change my mind about mail voting?

If you receive a mail ballot, but choose to vote in person, you’ll have to bring your mail ballot and the envelope it came with to your polling place. 

There you’ll give them to election workers and they will let you vote in person. This will add a bit more time to your voting experience, as both you and election workers have to fill out an affidavit to ensure the surrender of your mail ballot is official. 

I applied for a mail ballot but didn’t get one, what do I do?

If it’s getting close to the election and your mail ballot is nowhere in sight, you can get a replacement ballot by calling 215-686-3469 or coming to City Hall Room 142, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

If you never received your mail ballot and it’s Election Day, go to your polling place and request a provisional ballot. You’ll fill it out on the spot and leave it with election workers. They’ll be held by local officials and counted as valid seven days after the election. The weeklong wait is to ensure no mail ballot under your name comes during that time. 

How do I know if my polling place is accessible for wheelchairs?

The Pa. Dept. of State has a polling place tool that lets you know if your polling station is wheelchair accessible. If so, it will include a symbol of a wheelchair just below where the station’s address is listed.

This list explains how Pennsylvania defines accessible

If your polling place is inaccessible, and you are living with a disability or are 65 or older, you can vote by alternative ballot. Details can be found here — and note that you have to specify your polling location is inaccessible space on the Absentee Ballot Application at least 7 days before the election. 

Do I need my ID to vote in person?

On Election Day you should generally be able to show up without ID and vote

But if it’s your first time at a new polling place (or your first time voting in Philadelphia), be aware that you’ll need one of the following:

  • Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT ID card
  • ID issued by any Commonwealth agency
  • ID issued by the U.S. Government
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. Armed Forces ID
  • Student ID
  • Employee ID
  • Confirmation issued by the County Voter Registration Office
  • Non-photo ID issued by the Commonwealth
  • Non-photo ID issued by the U.S. Government
  • Firearm permit
  • Current utility bill
  • Current bank statement
  • Current paycheck
  • Government check

What are legitimate reasons I could be turned away from the polls? What do I do if the poll workers turn me away?

You can be refused the opportunity to vote if your identity or residency comes under question. 

The top poll worker at any polling station is called a Judge of Election. It’s their job to ensure that these questions are resolved peacefully and respectfully. 

If you can’t prove your identity or residence (something the forms of ID mentioned above would prevent) you have two options.

You can either “bring another voter from the precinct to sign an affidavit vouching for the challenged voter’s identity or residence,” per the DOS. That could be a block captain, your auntie, whomever, just a fellow registered voter that votes at the same site you do. 

If that isn’t possible it’s required that you receive a provisional ballot, which you’ll fill out and leave with the election workers. It’s their responsibility to ensure that the ballot is given to the county election office to determine if you’re really eligible to vote.

What do I do if I’m not in the voter books?

This mishap can happen, and if it does to you, ask for a provisional ballot. You can still fill it out and leave it with election workers. 
Be sure to write down your ballot ID number, so you can see if your ballot was cast through the state’s Provisional Ballot Search portal. You’ll know for sure seven days after the election.

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...