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How to dress your ‘naked ballot’ and make sure it’s counted

This is important if you’re planning to vote by mail in this election — or just generally favor accurate election results.

As usual, Pennsylvania remains key to anyone’s chances of winning the presidency this year. But unlike elections past, mail-in voting is playing a much larger — and so far more complicated — role this time around. We’re about to explain why that matters so much.

First, some background: Pennsylvania rolled out a “no excuses” mail-in voting plan last year, and it’s getting lots of attention and historic levels of participation in this pandemic.

But while a recent state supreme court decision gave Pennsylvania counties more days to tally mail-in votes, it solidified a rule requiring that mail-in ballots be thrown out if they don’t arrive in their designated “secrecy envelope.”

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 sealed inside it — and then the larger prepaid envelope — when it’s returned. (The secrecy envelope looks like this.)

Without the secrecy envelope it’s considered a “naked ballot” and vote counters will have to reject it.

Pennsylvania is one of just 16 states that still requires a secrecy envelope and there is no way to fix mail-in ballots that arrive without one. (Here’s more from WTAE’s David Kaplan.)

Adding to the urgency is this fact: Given the number of “naked” mail-in ballots seen in June’s primary, a similar rate in this election would mean up to 100,000 Pennsylvania ballots going uncounted — more than twice the margin of victory in our last presidential election.

This has led to warnings of “electoral chaos” and a post-election legal controversy, “the likes of which we have not seen since Florida in 2000.”

What can you do? If you’re planning to vote by mail, make sure to use your secrecy envelope properly and watch this two-minute video with tips on filling out your ballot correctly.

Once your ballot is completed, you have a few options. 1) Mail it. 2) Drop it off in person at Allegheny County’s elections office on the sixth floor of the County Office Building (Room 601) at 542 Forbes Ave., Downtown. 3) Drop it off at one of these countywide satellite voting sites in October.

Those satellite offices will also serve as one-stop shops where voters can apply for, complete, and turn in mail ballots all at once. In-person polling places will also be open on Election Day, fyi.

Here’s what else you can do: Tell everyone — and we mean everyone — you know who’s planning to vote by mail how to do it right and make sure their vote is counted.

And maybe most importantly, get all of this done ASAP. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 19. The deadline to request your mail-in ballot is Oct. 27. And the deadline for your mail-in ballot to be hand-delivered to your county election officials or postmarked is now Nov. 3. But the sooner you get all of this handled the better, especially this year.

Have other questions about the process? Try this handy flowchart or this story with more on voting by mail in Allegheny County.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the last day to register for the Nov. 3 election. The registration deadline is Oct. 19.


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