Fact vs. Fiction: Answering your election questions

PITTSBURGH — Election Day is almost here, with just a few days left for you to cast your ballot.

Whether you do it in person or by mail, voters still have a lot of questions about what’s allowed and what’s not.

In this Fact vs. Fiction report, Channel 11′s Angie Moreschi finds the answers.

Most common mistakes

Interest in this year’s midterm election is at historic highs and your vote is more important than ever. So, to make sure there’s no confusion, we talked with Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman.

ANGIE: What are the most common mistakes?

CHAPMAN: A lot of times it’s forgetting to put the ballot in that inner envelope, or forgetting to sign and date the ballot, or just ballots not arriving on time.

Is mail-in voting confidential?

Let’s tackle that inner envelope issue, and why it’s so important.

A lot of people worry, is my vote really confidential if I vote by mail?

Well, that’s exactly why there are two envelopes.

CHAPMAN: The outer envelope has a bar code. That’s how you’re able to determine whether or not your county received it. It has your name — you know, you sign and date your name on it. But when counties receive your mail-in ballot, they take it out of that outer envelope. It’s in that inner secrecy envelope, and that inner secrecy envelope has no markings as far as who it’s from.

So be sure to use that inner secrecy envelope, which is removed from the outer envelope and separated before being opened and counted.

That’s how they keep your mail-in vote confidential.

Undated mail-in ballots

We’re turning now to the issue of not dating your ballot.

This is a big one because of ongoing legal challenges, as to whether those ballots should count.

So, we ask: Will my mail-in vote count if I forget to date the outer envelope?

The secretary of state says it should, but ultimately, it’s not up to her.

CHAPMAN: We are in litigation, but if you make sure you’re following those instructions, regardless of the outcome of the litigation, you can ensure your ballot is counted.

Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that mail-in ballots with missing or incorrect dates should not count. The court directed county boards of elections to “segregate and preserve” those ballots. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that the dates are not mandatory, but the U.S. Supreme Court deemed that decision moot, leading to the current litigation.

The secretary of state’s office has said they are reviewing the latest decision.

At this point, it is unclear if your vote will be counted if you don’t date your ballot.

So, don’t take any chances. Just be sure to sign and date that outer envelope.

Returning your mail-in ballot

As far as returning your mail-in ballot, when does it have to arrive to ensure it is counted?

Is it OK if my ballot is just postmarked by Election Day?

CHAPMAN: County election offices have to receive mail-in ballots by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

So, no, it’s not OK to just postmark your mail-in ballot on Election Day. It must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted.

At this point, if you haven’t mailed it yet, you’re better off hand-delivering it to your county elections office, to make sure it gets there on time.

Do I need voter ID at the polls?

What about voters who plan to go to the polls in person on Election Day?

Will you be required to show voter ID?

CHAPMAN: If you’re a first-time voter, you do need an ID to vote in Pennsylvania, but it’s not (necessary to be) a photo ID. There are various different types of ID that you can provide as a first-time voter.

So, yes, you do need an ID to vote in person, but only if it’s your first time voting in a precinct.

Acceptable forms of ID include:

  • Driver’s license.
  • Utility bill.
  • Bank statement.

When will we know the winners?

This is one a lot of us are wondering.

Will we know the winners on election night?

You’ve probably noticed in recent years that it’s taking a lot longer for the vote to be counted.

This has to do with mail-in ballots and something called “pre-canvassing.” That’s the sorting process where inner envelopes are removed, separated and opened.

In Pennsylvania, county election officials are not allowed to start that process until 7 a.m. on Election Day.

So, all that sorting on the same day slows down the process.

Several other states actually allow more time for pre-canvassing. It’s something many in our state are pushing for.

CHAPMAN: (We’d like to see) two weeks before the election, for election officials to start processing those mail-in ballots. That’s what other states have. It’s a best practice. That’s how Florida is able to call election results on election night and people are still waiting for Pennsylvania.

Any change in pre-canvassing would require action by the legislature and that is not expected any time soon.

So, no, most likely we won’t know all the winners on election night. That’s especially likely in close elections, like the big race in Pennsylvania for U.S. Senate between John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz. The secretary of state says to expect that one to take a few days.

You can count on Channel 11 to be your election headquarters. Be sure to tune in to WPXI on election night as we bring you live, up-to-the-minute coverage of the results as soon as they’re announced.

Find voting information here

Click here for the Department of State’s election webpage to help you find everything from your voter registration status to your current precinct and more. Click here to find information for your county election officials and where your county elections office is located.

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