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Elections

A complete guide to Pa. primary Election Day 2023, including who is on the ballot, when to vote, how to vote, where to vote, casting mail ballots, and more

by Katie Meyer of Spotlight PA and Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA |

Pennsylvania voters take to the polls in Harrisburg on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.
Amanda Berg / For Spotlight PA

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HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s May 16 primary election is rapidly approaching, and now is the time to understand who will be on the ballot, when to vote, how to vote, where to vote, and more. If you need a refresher on registering and voting, Spotlight PA has you covered.

Democrats and Republicans will consider candidates running for a slew of local and judicial races, including for the state Supreme Court, Commonwealth Court, and Superior Court. Whoever wins these partisan primaries will face off in the November general election.

While this year’s elections are technically considered “off-year” contests, the name is misleading. These are important races, and the people elected this year will have power over some of the most basic levels of government, from public school operations and budgets on the local level, to hugely consequential interpretations of state law in appellate courts.

Read on for key primary election dates, information on the candidates who are on your ballot, tips on navigating mail ballots, and more.

When is the 2023 primary election day in Pennsylvania?

Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Mark your calendar!

When do polls open for Pa.’s 2023 primary election?

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Can I still register to vote?

The last day to register to vote is May 1. You can register here.

You can check if you’ve already registered here using either your name and address or a form of state-issued identification.

Can independents vote in primaries in Pa.?

If you are registered to a third party or to no party at all, you will not be allowed to vote for major party candidates in key races like the one for state Supreme Court. If you want to participate in a party’s primary, you must change your registration to one of the parties on or before May 1.

Voters who remain unaffiliated can, however, weigh in on special elections and ballot initiatives.

There aren’t any statewide ballot questions in this year’s primary, but your municipality might have its own.

There are also two special elections to fill state House vacancies happening on primary day.

One is being held in the Philly suburbs’ 163rd Legislative district to replace former state Rep. Mike Zabel (D., Delaware), who resigned last month following accusations of sexual harassment. The other is in the 108th Legislative district in the Susquehanna Valley, which was held by former Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver (R., Northumberland) until she resigned after winning a state Senate seat.

You can check whether you’re in one of the districts with a special election using the commonwealth’s voter registration tool — just enter your information, and the site will let you know whether you’re registered, and which districts you can vote in.

How do I change parties?

To change your party affiliation, fill out the same voter registration form that you used to register the first time.

When filling out the form, just select the box that says “change of party.” If you register less than 15 days before the election, the change will not take place until the next election cycle.

Where do I vote for Pa. primary?

If you’re voting in person, you can look up your polling place here.

Can I vote by mail?

You sure can. Pennsylvania’s mail voting law has seen a lot of litigation in recent years, but it remains legal to cast your ballot by mail across the commonwealth.

How do I vote by mail?

You can request a mail ballot here using either a state-issued form of identification or your Social Security number.

What is the deadline to request a mail ballot?

The deadline for the primary is May 9, 2023.

How do I properly prepare my mail ballot so it’s not thrown out?

Remember those lawsuits over mail ballots we mentioned? Judges’ rulings on all that litigation has been shaping and reshaping the specifics of Pennsylvania’s mail ballot laws for years. Things may have changed since the last time you read up on it.

First, the basics: After receiving your mail ballot, be sure to read the instructions and complete the front and back of each page. After filling it out, place the ballot in the inner secrecy envelope that came with it. The secrecy envelope will be labeled, “official election ballot.” Be sure not to make any marks on this inner envelope, and don’t forget it — ballots with missing secrecy envelopes can be tossed out.

Finally, put the secrecy envelope in the pre-addressed return envelope. Remember to sign and date the return envelope. For more details you can check here.

In some past elections, counties have accepted ballots that had missing or incorrect dates on their outer envelopes. Thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling last year, that’s no longer the case. If your ballot is missing its date or its date is outside the valid range, it can be discarded.

Some counties will contact voters if their mail ballots have disqualifying problems such as missing dates or signatures. But that practice isn’t regulated across the commonwealth, so each county does it slightly differently, and many don’t allow ballot curing at all. You can use this Spotlight PA tool to check your county’s policy.

How do I drop off a mail ballot?

Mail ballots must be received by your county’s board of elections by 8 p.m. on the day of the primary, Tuesday, May 16. You can return your mail ballot in person at your county election board, at a drop box if your county uses them, at another designated location, or through the mail.

If you’re mailing your ballot, make sure you leave enough time for it to arrive at the county election office by 8 p.m. on primary day. If it arrives late due to mail delays or any other issue, it won’t be counted.

You can check whether your county uses drop boxes here, and you can locate a dropoff spot here.

Voters must return their own ballots unless otherwise authorized, and only voters with a disability may designate someone to deliver their ballot for them. To officially designate someone, fill out this form and send it with your mail ballot. If you’ve already sent in your mail ballot, you can contact your local county election office for information on where to turn in the form.

How do I vote absentee?

Though they’re extremely similar, mail voting and absentee voting are distinct. Mail voting requires no excuse; absentee voting, which predates Pennsylvania’s 2019 mail voting expansion, does require an excuse.

Most of the absentee voting process is the same as mail voting. You can apply online or download the form and send it to your county election office.

However, the application requires you to list a reason for your absence, unlike a mail ballot. You can find the application here.

What is the deadline to request an absentee ballot?

The deadline for the primary is 5 p.m. May 9, 2023.

Who’s on the ballot?

This year’s statewide races are all for Pennsylvania’s three appellate courts. There are two open seats on the Superior Court, one on Commonwealth Court, and one on the Supreme Court.

The Democratic and Republican primaries for Supreme and Commonwealth Courts are all competitive, meaning at least two candidates are vying for one seat. The Democratic primary for Superior Court is also competitive, while the GOP primary for Superior Court is not.

You can read more about Supreme Court candidates here, and more about the Superior and Commonwealth Court candidates here.

In addition, voters will cast ballots in a wide range of local races including city council, mayoral, and school board seats.

Most counties provide a preview of what their ballot will look like. You can find your county election site here. The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan national voter advocacy group, also offers a ballot preview tool.

Are there any constitutional amendments or statewide referendums on the ballot?

No.

Full coverage of the Pennsylvania primary election 2023:

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