This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.
Pennsylvania’s 2022 general election will give registered voters in the state the chance to pick the state’s next governor and U.S. senator as well as U.S. House lawmakers and those who serve in the legislature.
Thousands of people are expected to participate in this election by mail — an option available to all voters for any reason since 2020.
The mail voting process can be confusing and has been made even more so by legal challenges, disinformation undermining public faith in elections, and efforts by many Republican lawmakers to prohibit its use.
In early August, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the state law that created no-excuse mail voting. Republican lawmakers — many of whom voted for it — had argued the law was passed in an unconstitutional way.
While there are still pending legal challenges, state officials stress that casting a ballot by mail this November is a legal option available to all registered voters.
Here’s everything you need to know about voting by mail.
How do I request a mail ballot?
(If you’re not already registered to vote, you must do so by Oct. 24. Online voter registration applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m that day. Mail and in-person applications must be received by the county board of elections by close of business.)
You must provide proper identification to apply for a mail ballot. Acceptable options include a Pennsylvania driver’s license or the last four digits of a Social Security number. The Department of State lists the approved forms of identification online: vote.pa.gov/Voting-in-PA/Pages/Mail-and-Absentee-Ballot.aspx.
You can apply for a one-time mail ballot or to be added to the annual request list, which means you’ll get an application each year.
How do I make sure my ballot is counted?
Pennsylvania’s high court, a week before the general election, ordered counties to “refrain from counting” undated or misdated mail ballots. The move has the potential to invalidate thousands of ballots that would otherwise be deemed acceptable. The best way to ensure your vote counts is to follow the rules.
Each mail ballot comes with instructions that voters must read carefully.
- Each ballot comes with two envelopes: an inner “secrecy” envelope and an outer envelope. Ballots must be sealed in the inner envelope, which you cannot write on.
- Once you’ve properly sealed the inner envelope, place it in the outer envelope and seal.
- There’s a voter declaration on the outer envelope. You must sign and date below the declaration.
- Some counties require paid postage, but others don’t. Check your county election website to confirm.
How do I return my mail ballot?
There are several methods for returning your ballot, but the most important thing to remember is that your county election board must receive your ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day. If you’re dropping off your ballot in person or using a drop box, you must use a location in your county. If you deliver your ballot to another county, it won’t be counted.
- Return by mail: To return your ballot through the mail, all you have to do is use the proper postage and mail it out the same way you’d send any mail. Because counties cannot count ballots that come in after 8 p.m. on Election Day, the sooner you mail your ballot, the better.
- Deliver in person: Make sure your ballot has been properly filled out and sealed, then return the ballot in person to your county election office. Some counties may also have other designated return sites. Use this link to find the address or addresses: vote.pa.gov/Voting-in-PA/Pages/Return-Ballot.aspx.
- Use a drop box: Drop boxes are another secure method of returning a mail ballot (guidance from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says they should be securely bolted to the ground and monitored by security cameras). Not all counties have them. The Pennsylvania Department of State says voters should look on their county’s website to find an official list of locations.
If you have a disability that prevents you from returning your own ballot, you may fill out a form to designate someone else to return it for you. You must turn in the form with your mail ballot application, and the designee must have a copy on hand when they return your ballot.
Otherwise, you must return your own ballot.
Politicians have used isolated instances of illegal ballot returns to challenge the security of mail voting, but these incidents do not indicate widespread fraudulent voting. In fact, mail ballot fraud is extremely rare because of the security measures on the ballot and the strict requirements to receive a mail ballot.
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media.