Allegheny County mail-in voting, explained

Updated Sept. 24, 2020 

Given all the talk around the mail and November’s election, we thought we’d take a minute to answer a few questions about mail-in voting this year, how to get your mail-in ballot, and how to make sure it’s counted. Let’s begin.

Why is everyone talking about the mail right now? 

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, mail-in voting is more popular and possible than ever in the United States. But partisan efforts to undermine the option — and warnings from the postal service itself — raised red flags about our ability to conduct an election with what is likely to be historic levels of mail-in participation. But don’t panic. Here’s what else you need to know.

How can I request a mail-in ballot?

You can apply online, by printing and mailing in this form (aquí hay una versión en español), or by visiting the Allegheny County Elections Office between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Political parties and other groups are also sending out mail-in ballot applications, many with prepaid postage. But Wanda Murren with the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections in the commonwealth, told us the online route is preferable, adding, “it’s more accurate, we don’t have to worry about illegible handwriting, it goes right to the county elections office, and it saves ton of work for county election staff.”

What if I’m not registered to vote or unsure? 

You can confirm if you’re registered here. If you’re not registered and want to vote in this election, you have until Oct. 19 to get registered. You can start that process here. And if you are registered but need to update your address, for example, head here.

What do I do once I have my mail-in ballot?

Allegheny County’s elections office provides the following tips for doing it right:

“Fill in the oval next to a candidate’s name. You must darken the oval completely, and do not make any marks outside of the oval. Use a black or blue ballpoint pen only. Place your ballot in the secrecy envelope, and then put the secrecy envelope into the official envelope. Be sure to sign the form or your ballot may not count.”

What’s a secrecy envelope? It’s an envelope meant to safeguard voter privacy that arrives with your mail-in ballot. More importantly, your mail-in ballot must be inside it — and then the larger prepaid envelope — when it’s returned.

Without the secrecy envelope it’s considered a “naked ballot” and vote counters will have to reject it. Here’s more on how that works.

Once I have my mail-in ballot filled out, how do I turn it in? 

Mail it back in the envelope provided — postage will be prepaid in Pennsylvania. You can also personally deliver it to a handful of locations around Allegheny County. (More on that below.)

What are the deadlines? 

You have until Oct. 27 to request a mail-in ballot. A court ruling on Thursday, Sept. 17 has cleared the way for counties to begin printing and sending out requested mail-in ballots after a days-long delay.

Your mail-in ballot will now be counted as long as it’s postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day and received by the county elections office before 5 p.m. on Nov. 6.

But it’s still important to request yours and turn it in ASAP. The sooner you get all of this handled the better — especially this year.

How can I be sure my mail-in ballot is counted? 

Provide your email address on your ballot and/or ballot application and you should receive an email confirming that either was received. If you don’t get confirmation, contact the PA Department of State at [email protected] or by calling 1-877-VOTESPA. You can also check the status of your ballot here.

Will the polls be open on Election Day? 

Yes. Allegheny County officials plan to open all 1,323 polling places on Nov. 3, and they’re recruiting thousands of poll workers.

Mail-in voting without the mail?

In Allegheny County, completed mail-in ballots can be dropped off with the county’s elections office between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Mail-in ballots can also be requested at the elections office during those hours. The office is located on the sixth floor of the County Office Building (Room 601) at 542 Forbes Ave., Downtown.

The county’s board of elections has also approved this countywide list of locations for mail-in ballot drop-offs and “over-the-counter voting,” which allows voters to apply for, complete, and turn in a mail ballot all at once. The locations will be open on three weekends in October.

The move followed Thursday’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, which allows counties to use drop boxes and satellite offices for personal delivery of mail-in ballots — something President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and others have tried to prevent. It’s unclear if the Trump campaign will appeal the decision.

A federal lawsuit filed by his campaign against key portions of Pennsylvania’s “no excuse” mail-in voting plan is currently on hold. This article will be updated as necessary.

For the record, there is no evidence of widespread mail-in voting fraud. But that likely won’t stop attempts to undermine the option in the run-up to November.

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