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Voting by mail for the election? Here’s everything you need to know

PITTSBURGH — Nine million Pennsylvania residents registered to vote in the upcoming election on Nov. 3, a record for the state, and millions of those voters will cast their ballots by mail.

Have questions about the process of mail-in or absentee voting? Here’s everything you need to know.

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When is the deadline to apply?

The deadline to apply for both absentee and mail-in ballots is Oct. 27 at 5 p.m., while you have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to turn in your ballot.

However, a recent decision by the US Supreme Court upheld the decision to extend the deadline to count these ballots due to the coronavirus. Ballots that are eligible to be counted must be postmarked by the time polls close and be received by county election boards at 5 p.m. on Nov. 6, three days after the Nov. 3 election.

Click here for more information on applying for absentee or mail-in ballots.

What are my options for voting by mail?

In Pennsylvania, you now have two options for mail ballots, according to state officials:

  • Mail-in ballot – Any qualified voter may apply for a mail-in ballot. You may simply request this ballot without a reason.
  • 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.

In order to request either ballot type, you must be registered to vote. The deadline to register to vote in Pa. was Oct. 19.

Is voting by mail secure?

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have spearheaded the argument against mail-in voting, suggesting that it enables large-scale election fraud. But voting experts consistently dispute that.

Experts say that systematic tampering with mail-in voting is almost impossible, given all the overlapping security measures built into the system.

Ben Hovland, head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, agrees that the incidence of voter fraud in general is “historically rare” because “there are just so many safeguards in place.”

Can I vote by mail without an excuse?

Yes, you can vote by mail (mail-in-ballots) without an “excuse” in Pennsylvania.

Some states, such as Tennessee, require voters to provide a valid reason why they can’t vote in person on Election Day.

However, anyone who applies to vote via absentee ballot in Pa. is required to give an excuse.

How do I submit my mail-in ballot?

Ballots that are eligible to be counted must be postmarked by the time polls close and be received by county election boards at 5 p.m. on Nov. 6, three days after the Nov. 3 election.

As far as actually submitting your ballot so it gets counted, there are a few options at your disposal.

  • Drop ballot off in-person -- Drop boxes are a safe and secure way for Pennsylvania voters to return their voted mail-in or absentee ballots. Voters may return their mail-in or absentee ballot at their county election board’s designated drop box or drop-off location before 8 p.m. on Election Day. You can ONLY drop off your own ballot using this method.
  • Mail it -- If you don’t want to drop your ballot off directly to the elections office, you can simply drop it in a US Postal Service mail box.

Voters can also simply visit their county election office or satellite office and apply for a mail ballot. County election officials will check their eligibility while they wait and, once their eligibility is verified, give them a ballot. They can then complete their ballot and cast it all in one visit.

For more information about voting in Pennsylvania and across the United States, check out NBC News' state-by-state guide (CLICK HERE). You can also use the interactive map below:

Mark your calendars. Everything you need to know about mail-in and early in-person voting, including the first day you can cast your ballot in the 2020 election.

After voting by mail, how do I track my ballot?

State officials said voters can see the status of their mail-in or absentee ballot online. You are able to track your ballot’s progress from when your county receives your request, to when they receive your voted ballot.

Due to the volume of mail-in ballots expected during the 2020 General Election, it may take a few days for the system to be updated.

When tracking it online, you’ll need the following information to do so:

  • First and last name used when applying for the ballot
  • County in which you are voting
  • Date of birth


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