Bethlehem Press

Saturday, July 11, 2020
Press photo by Bernie O’HareNorthampton County Executive Lamont McClure with mail-in ballot application. Press photo by Bernie O’HareNorthampton County Executive Lamont McClure with mail-in ballot application.

Election code change: You can now vote by mail

Wednesday, January 15, 2020 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

For the first time in 80 years, Pennsylvania has made significant changes to the Elections Code. If you hate standing in long lines on election day or insist on voting by paper ballot, this is for you.

For the first time, voters will be able to cast their ballots by mail. On Jan. 10, the Pennsylvania Department of State issued its guidance to all counties. Here’s what you need to know:

1) Voter registration. - Previously, in order to vote, you had to be registered at least 30 days before the election. That deadline is now 15 days before the election, or April 13. You can register at the county office elections office, with PennDot or online (https://www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/Pages/VoterRegistrationApplication.aspx.)

2) Voting by Mail. - You can now vote by mail, and may apply for a ballot within 50 days prior to an election. A request to vote by mail must be received by 5 p.m. on the Tuesday prior to an election. The county must accept the actual ballot so long as it is received by 8 p.m. on election day.

3) Permanent Mail-in voter list. - You can ask to be placed on a permanent mail-in voter list. Voters on this list will receive an application for a ballot in early February.

4) Can You Vote by mail and in person? No. If you’ve returned a mail-in or absentee ballot, you are ineligible to vote at your polling precinct.

5) Where Will Mail-in and Absentee Ballots be counted? At the elections office, but not until the polls close. Absentee ballots will no longer be counted at voting precincts. Counties have been given the option to select other locations at which voters can drop off ballots, so long as there is security and a chain of custody can be established

6) Straight-party voting. - This feature has finally been eliminated.

In another tweak to the Elections Code, the state legislature has banned the Department of State from decertifying voting systems used by the majority of the counties unless it advises the legislature six months in advance with a justification as well as a plan for paying for a new system. Counties were given no warning when Governor Tom Wolf suddenly decided, as part of a lawsuit settlement, to order them to get new systems in time for this year’s election.