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Pa. election 2023: Everything you need to know about requesting, filling out, and returning your mail ballot

  • By Elizabeth Estrada of Spotlight PA
Mail ballots are seen on Election Day 2020 in Northampton County.

 Matt Smith / For Spotlight PA

Mail ballots are seen on Election Day 2020 in Northampton County.

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds power to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s 2023 election will give voters the chance to pick a new slate of judges across several statewide courts.

On Nov. 7, voters will elect a new state Supreme Court justice, as well as new judges to sit on Commonwealth and Superior Courts. They will also decide whether two appellate judges on Superior Court should get another term.

Across the state, some residents will also vote in municipal races for offices like mayor and school board, and answer ballot questions.

While many voters will head to their local polling place on Election Day, others will opt to vote by mail instead. All registered voters in the commonwealth have been able to vote by mail since 2020.

The mail voting process can be confusing and has been made even more so by legal challenges, disinformation undermining public faith in elections, and efforts by many Republican lawmakers to prohibit its use.

Still, it’s important to know that all registered voters in Pennsylvania legally have the option to cast a ballot by mail if they choose to do so.

Here’s everything you need to know about voting by mail:

How do I request a mail ballot?

You can apply for a mail ballot online, in person at a county election office, or through the mail. Paper applications are also available for download in Spanish and Chinese, in addition to English. Applications must be received by your county election board by 5 p.m. Oct. 31.

If you’re not already registered to vote, you must do so by Oct. 23. Online voter registration applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m that day. Mail and in-person applications must be received by the county board of elections by 5 p.m.

You must provide proper identification to apply for a mail ballot. Acceptable options include a Pennsylvania driver’s license or the last four digits of a Social Security number. The Pennsylvania Department of State lists the approved forms of identification online.

You can apply for a one-time mail ballot or request to be added to the annual mail ballot list, which means you’ll get an application each year. You must submit this application for every year you wish to vote by mail.

If you have an emergency and miss the deadline, you may still be able to request an emergency application for an absentee ballot.

How do I make sure my ballot is counted?

The best way to ensure your vote counts is to follow the instructions on your mail ballot, especially when it comes to correctly dating your ballot.

Each mail ballot comes with instructions that voters must read carefully.

  1. You must use blue or black ink to fill out your ballot.
  2. Each ballot comes with two envelopes: an inner “secrecy” envelope (labeled “official election ballot”) and an outer envelope. Ballots must be sealed in the inner envelope, which you cannot write on.
  3. Once you’ve properly sealed the inner envelope, place it in the outer envelope and seal that
  4. There’s a voter declaration on the outer envelope. You must sign and date below the declaration.
  5. Some counties require paid postage, but others don’t. Check your county election website to confirm and double-check the amount of postage, as longer mail ballots may require additional postage.

How do I return my mail ballot?

There are several methods for returning your ballot, but the most important thing to remember is that your county election board must receive your ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day. If you’re returning your ballot in person or using a drop box, you must use a location in your county. If you deliver your ballot to another county, it won’t be counted.

  1. Return by mail: To return your ballot through the mail, all you have to do is use the proper postage and mail it out the same way you’d send any mail. Because counties cannot count ballots that come in after 8 p.m. on Election Day, the sooner you mail your ballot, the better.
  2. Deliver in person: Make sure your ballot has been properly filled out and sealed, then return the ballot in person to your county election office. Some counties may also have other designated return sites. Find the address for your county election office or dropoff sites online.
  3. Use a drop box: Drop boxes are another secure method of returning a mail ballot (guidance from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says they should be securely bolted to the ground and monitored by security cameras). Not all counties have them. The Pennsylvania Department of State says voters should look on their county’s website to find an official list of locations.

After you mail or deliver your ballot, you can check the status of your mail ballot online. This is because every mail ballot outer envelope has an individual barcode that is specific to you. Once this barcode is scanned, it will be recorded that your mail ballot was received. However, your actual mail ballot will not be opened and counted until Election Day, per Pennsylvania law.

If you have a disability that prevents you from returning your own ballot, you may fill out a form to designate someone else to return it for you. You must turn in the form with your mail ballot application, and the designee must have a copy on hand when they return your ballot.

Otherwise, you must return your own ballot.

Politicians have used isolated instances of illegal ballot returns to challenge the security of mail voting, but these incidents do not indicate widespread fraudulent voting. In fact, mail ballot fraud is extremely rare because of the security measures on the ballot and the strict requirements to receive a mail ballot.

Visit to read the Pennsylvania Department of State’s rules for mail ballots.

Read Spotlight PA’s complete coverage, including candidate and election guides, court explainers, important cases, and more, at our 2023 Election Center.



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