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From the archives 2020

Election 2020 in Pennsylvania: All of your voting questions, answered

by Spotlight PA Staff |

For the next week, we’ll answer your most pressing election and voting questions.
TOM GRALISH / Philadelphia Inquirer

This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

With Election Day fast approaching, we know there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there about voting in Pennsylvania.

Spotlight PA and Votebeat are here for you. For the next week, we’ll answer your most pressing election and voting questions. Use the form below to submit yours.

We also held a live Q&A with our political experts on Monday. You can watch that panel discussion here.

I’ve received my mail-in ballot, but I have decided that I want to vote in person on a voting machine. I know I can’t do both, but I don’t want to shred the mail-in ballot unless I know for sure that I can stand in line and vote in person.

Don’t shred that ballot! Voters who received a mail-in or absentee ballot but want to vote in person should bring the ballot and pre-addressed outer envelope with them to their polling place on Election Day.

Those who can’t or don’t will have to cast a provisional ballot. Election workers use provisional ballots for anyone who shows up to the polls on Election Day and their eligibility to vote is in some way unclear. Later, election officials investigate whether the person who cast the ballot is indeed registered and has not already voted. The voter can then search for their provisional ballot here to see if it was ultimately accepted. — Marie Albiges

What if I don’t receive the ballot I requested in the mail by Election Day?

First, check your ballot status using the Department of State’s website. The Philadelphia Inquirer has a helpful rundown of what the different messages you could see mean.

If you’re still concerned, you can contact your county Board of Elections office.

If it’s Nov. 3 and you still haven’t gotten your mail ballot — even if it’s through no fault of your own — you will have to cast a provisional ballot at your polling place. You can find your polling place here. — Tom Lisi

Can anyone other than myself return my ballot?

Unless you have a disability or are casting an emergency ballot, only you as the voter can return your ballot.

If you have a disability that prevents you from picking up a ballot and returning it to the county Board of Elections, you can designate someone else to do it by filling out a form, and the designee must certify they haven’t altered or marked the ballot before dropping it off.

In the event of an emergency such as an unexpected illness that occurs after the 5 p.m. deadline to request a ballot on Oct. 27, you can apply for an emergency absentee ballot and fill out a form to designate someone to drop off the ballot for you. — Marie Albiges

Is there still any chance the Pennsylvania legislature will allow counties to start pre-canvassing mail ballots before Election Day?

Nope. The General Assembly adjourned until Nov. 10 — a week after Election Day — without sending any election reforms to the governor’s desk.

A spokesperson for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania said officials are now “pleading with voters, candidates, and the media to be patient” as it could take days before the election results are finalized.

“Counties will now continue with the many duties of conducting secure, accurate elections but will not sacrifice the integrity of the election in order to hasten results,” the spokesperson told Spotlight PA. “The timing of results will vary depending upon each county’s resources, and we ask that everyone be patient and understand that counties will get it done correctly — it just may take a little longer than we would all like.” — Cynthia Fernandez

What should be done if militia appears at the polls? Are guns permitted at polls?

“The Election Code does not specifically address firearms or weapons at a polling place,” according to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and Office of Attorney General. “Therefore, if a person can legally possess a firearm, there is no law prohibiting them from having that firearm at a polling place unless the polling place is located in a location where firearms are prohibited by law. Firearms are prohibited by law at courthouses and schools.”

No one with a gun can use it to threaten or intimidate others, and, if they do, they could face charges of voter intimidation and a judge’s order to leave or be removed from the polling place. — Tom Lisi

Can I take a selfie at the polls?

Yes! While the framers of the Constitution probably didn’t anticipate voters taking camera phones into the voting booth with them, Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar recently said that taking photos of yourself while voting is permitted under the First Amendment.

What’s not permitted is taking photos, videos, or recordings of other people at the polls in a way that could possibly be seen as intimidating, or in a way that blocks someone from voting, Boockvar said. — Marie Albiges

What happens if I’m in line when the polls close?

If you’re in line before 8 p.m. on Election Day when the polls close, you can still cast your vote as long as you remain in line. — Marie Albiges

Are masks required for voters inside polling places?

Voters are not required to wear masks, although election officials are and will be encouraging people to wear them.

On Thursday, the Department of State released guidance saying that poll watchers and authorized representatives who observe the canvassing process must wear face coverings inside the polling and canvassing locations as well as when interacting with voters outside. The guidance says anyone refusing to wear a mask will be asked to leave, and county election officials will let the candidate or political party know their watcher or representative was violating the mask order. — Marie Albiges

How often will we have updates on results after polls close on election night?

After polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day, unofficial results can be found at electionreturns.pa.gov. Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar said the website will provide the unofficial results for each race by county and type of ballot: Election Day, mail, and provisional.

The state will also be tracking the ballots that have not yet been counted in each county on its website.

Just how often the updates will come depends on a number of variables. Bucks County, for example, plans to provide an update on results every 90 minutes starting at 10 p.m.

Anything posted to the state’s site before the polls close is considered to be in “testing mode,” displaying sample data for testing purposes. — Marie Albiges

We voted by mail and did not receive a confirmation by email or phone. Should we vote again on Election Day by provisional ballot?

If you’re confident you filled out the ballot correctly, placed it in the secrecy envelope, put it in the pre-addressed envelope, signed the outside, and got it in the mail, it’s most likely safe to assume that your vote will be counted, said Pat Christmas, policy director at the Committee of Seventy. Glitches in the state’s voter database system have affected the notification system for some voters, he said.

But if you’re not sure you got all the steps right, or you just want to be sure, you have options.

First, check your ballot status using the Department of State’s website. The Philadelphia Inquirer has a helpful rundown of what the different messages you could see mean.

You can also go to your local elections office, or a satellite location if your county offers one, and request a new mail-in ballot. This process will void the first one, and you will fill in your new ballot and submit it to the elections office on the same trip. You can do this on Election Day.

Your other option is to go to your polling location on Election Day and vote by provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots are counted and included in the final results just like any other vote. According to state law, elections officials have to determine if the ballot is valid and count it within seven days of Election Day.

Provisional ballots at polling places will largely resemble mail-in ballots. When you hand it back to a poll worker, you will receive a paper receipt with a ballot identification number. You will be able to use that to check on the status of your ballot at the Department of State’s voter services website or hotline, 1-877-VOTESPA. — Tom Lisi

Last updated: Nov. 2, 3 p.m.

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