Voting in PA: Absentee Ballots 101

By: J.J. Abbott and Darwin Paz

October 20, 2016

If you are unable to attend your polling place in person on Election Day, you may be eligible to vote by absentee ballot. You must be already registered to vote to receive an absentee ballot.

If you’re unsure, confirm your registration.

Here is a straightforward guide on how to find out if you’re eligible to vote absentee and how to apply for an absentee ballot.

Who can vote by absentee ballot?

A voter needs to have a reason or an excuse to vote by absentee ballot. People who may vote by absentee ballot include:

  • College students.
  • People whose work or vacation take them away from the municipality where they live.
  • People with a physical disability or illness that prevents them from going to the polling place.
  • Members of the military.
  • People who may have a conflict due to the celebration of a religious holiday.

Get an absentee ballot mailed to you

If you can’t make it to the polls on Election Day for one of the reasons listed above, there are now multiple ways to apply for an absentee ballot.

Apply Online

Registered voters can now apply online for an absentee ballot with a valid PA driver’s license or photo I.D. from the PA Department of Transportation (PennDot).

Note: This option will be available to military and voters overseas by 2020. Until then, military and overseas voters who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day can apply for an absentee ballot by mail.

Apply by Mail

  1. Download and complete a paper absentee ballot application. Be sure to mark the reason why you cannot get to the polling place on election day.
  2. Mail your completed absentee ballot application to your county election office. Try to have it mailed by October 18.

Apply in Person

Stop by your county election office to apply in person.

You received your absentee ballot, now what?

  1. Fill out your ballot.
  2. Once complete, place your ballot in the secrecy envelope and then put the secrecy envelope into the official envelope.
    Note: Be sure to sign the form, or your ballot may not count.
  3. Mail your completed absentee ballot to your county election office. Try to have it mailed by October 25.

Deadlines to keep in mind for the November 5 election:

In order to make sure you can get your ballot mailed to you and submitted in time, take these steps as soon as possible.

  • October 18: Suggested deadline to mail absentee ballot applications.
  • October 25: Suggested deadline to mail voted absentee ballot.
  • October 29 at 5 p.m:  Deadline for your county election office to receive your absentee application — whether applying online or by mail.
  • November 1 at 5 p.m: Deadline for your county election office to receive your filled out voted absentee ballot.

Note: Postmarks do not mean “received.”

To learn more about military and overseas voter options or how to apply for an Emergency Absentee Ballot, visit the Voting by Absentee Ballot webpage by Department of State.

If you have any questions, you can also contact the Department of State by phone (1-877-VOTESPA).

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