Pennsylvania’s new election reform law takes effect with the primary election on April 28, 2020. The law creates a new option to vote by mail that can make voting much easier and more convenient for older adults. Registered voters can now choose to vote by mail-in ballot rather than appearing at a polling place on election day.
According to the Governor’s press release the new law (Act 77 of 2019) creates an option to vote by mail up to 50 days before an election and be placed on a list to permanently receive a ballot application by mail. Unlike an absentee ballot, no reason or excuse is required. The reform law also provides more time to register to vote and makes other changes to Pennsylvania election laws.
Among the provisions of the new law as noted in the press release:
No excuse mail-in voting
The law creates a new option to vote by mail without providing an excuse, which is currently required for voters using absentee ballots. Pennsylvania joins 31 other states and Washington, D.C. with mail-in voting that removes barriers to elections.
50-day mail-in voting period
All voters can request and submit their mail-in or absentee ballot up to 50 days before the election, which is the longest vote-by-mail period in the country.
Permanent mail-in and absentee ballot list
Voters can request to receive applications for mail-in or absentee ballots for all primary, general and special elections held in a given year. Counties will mail applications to voters on the list by the first Monday of each February. Voters who return an application will receive ballots for each election scheduled through the next February. Pennsylvania is the 12th state to provide voters with the automatic option.
15 more days to register to vote
The deadline to register to vote is extended to 15 days from 30 days before an election. Cutting the current deadline by half enables more people to participate in elections. The new more flexible and voter friendly deadlines provide more time to register to vote than 24 other states.
Extends mail-in and absentee submission deadlines
Voters can submit mail-in and absentee ballots until 8:00 p.m. on election day.
Act 77 provides PA voters with two options for voting by mail. You may either choose a mail-in ballot or an absentee ballot to request, complete, and return to your county election office. The votePA.com website describes these options as follows:
- Absentee ballot – If you plan to be out of the municipality on election day or if you have a disability or illness, you should request this ballot type, which still requires you to list a reason for your ballot.
- Mail-in ballot – If you aren’t an absentee voter, you may apply for a mail-in ballot. You may simply request this ballot without a reason.
This means that any Pennsylvania voter should now be able to vote by mail. The absentee ballot has been around in the past but requires an excuse. The no-excuse mail-in ballot option is newly authorized by Act 77.
Online: You can check your registration status, register to vote if needed , and request an absentee or mail in ballot online at VotesPA.com. If your online application is accepted, you will get a mail-in ballot with instructions from your county election office. VotesPA.com is an official Pennsylvania government website.
Directly from County Election Office: You can also apply for a receive a mail-in ballot directly from your county election office. Contact your county election office for more information.
Note, if you plan to vote using an absentee or mail-in ballot in the 2020 GENERAL PRIMARY held on 04/28/2020, your completed application must be received in the county office by 5:00 PM on 04/21/2020. The deadline to return your voted absentee or mail-in ballot is 8:00 PM on 04/28/2020.
You must apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot for each election, unless you qualify for and request permanent status to vote by mail-in ballot. If you are added to the annual mail-in ballot request list you will receive an application to renew your mail-in ballot request each year. Once your application is approved, you will automatically receive ballots for the remainder of the year, and you do not need to submit an application for each election.