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An initiative to provide nonpartisan, independent elections journalism for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Mail-in ballot request process in Pa. streamlined, opened early

A man puts envelopes in a bin.
Gene J. Puskar
Allegheny County workers scan mail-in and absentee ballots at the Allegheny County Election Division Elections warehouse in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.

Registered Pennsylvania voters can now request mail-in ballots for the Nov. 5 general election. The Department of State said it streamlined the application process and opened the request portal two months earlier than in 2020.

Voters won’t receive their mail-in ballots until October, but getting the application in early helps elections officials and voters.

Eva Weyrich, Juniata County’s elections director, notes it’s for two reasons.

“You’re going to get your ballot earlier when we have them available, of course,” Weyrich said. “And you’re sure that your application’s here in a timely manner.”

Elections directors often ask voters to request mail-in or absentee ballots well ahead of the Oct. 29 deadline. Since it’s close to Election Day, it makes it hard for counties to send out the ballots and then, for voters to return them on time.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania lists moving up the request deadline as a top legislative priority, and has since at least 2022.

Counties don’t have to start sending out mail-in ballots until Oct. 22, but most start as soon as ballots are ready to go — usually early in October..

Even if the legislature took action, having applications submitted ahead of time helps elections staff. The more requests they can process and send out ballots in early October, the less elections staff have to do that at the same time as preparing for Election Day.

Any voter can request a mail-in ballot for any reason in Pennsylvania, a result of Act 77 passed in 2019. About 560,000 Pennsylvanians voted by mail in this year’s primaries.

Voting mail-in ballots requires voters to follow detailed instructions. Failure to do so, such as not signing or dating the return envelope, could mean the ballot is rejected. The state’s redesign of mail voting materials led to a drop in ballot rejections, though problems persist, per Votebeat’s reporting.

Read more from our partners, WITF.