PLANNING AHEAD: Step-by-step instructions for voting by mail  — a reprise [Column]

Although no-excuse voting by mail has been in place throughout Pennsylvania for a few years now, it does not hurt to have a brief refresher course especially since so many smaller technical questions have been raised. The process is simple but it is easy to forget a step so this is a set of step-by-step instructions to vote by mail for the November, 2022 election.

First, at this point counties throughout Pennsylvania including Chester County where I am situated have already mailed their mail-in ballots for those voters who have requested them. You might have requested a mail-in ballot through the internet or maybe during the last voting cycle when you checked off the box stating you wanted to continue to receive mail-in ballots. So, there is a good chance you have already received it.  However, at any time if you want to check the status of your ballot for the upcoming election you can go to www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/pages/BallotTracking.aspx. This continues through receipt so you can track the status of your mail-in ballot.

If you have not made application for a mail-in ballot, you must do so within the time limits indicated.

If you have already received your mail-in ballot, then here, in simple terms, is what to do.

First: Open the envelope you received and remove the ballot and the two enclosed envelopes. One will be the return envelope preaddressed to Voter Services (the “return” envelope) and does not require postage. The second (the “secrecy” envelope) states “OFFICIAL ELECTION BALLOT.” It will contain your completed ballot for return.

Note: Do not write or put any markings on the secrecy envelope. This is important. 

Second: Review the ballot and fill in the circles beside your choices in black or blue ink. Put it aside.

Third: Sign and date the back of the “return” envelope. The signature should match the name also pre-printed on the back of the return envelope. Signing and dating the return envelope is important. One issue raised that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court was whether undated return envelopes would be accepted. The case was dismissed as moot.  There is also space for your return address on the front.

Next: Place your voted ballot inside the “secrecy” envelope and seal the “secrecy” envelope.

Finally: Place the “secrecy” envelope inside the “return” envelope and, with the “secrecy” envelope enclosed, seal the “return” envelope.

How to return the ballot

You have choices how to return your mail-in ballot and these are indicated in a slip of paper contained in your mailer. If you wish you can simply drop it in a mail box or take it to your post office for mailing. If you do not trust the mail and want to assure delivery you can take your own completed packet to the Election Office or Voter Services office for your jurisdiction.

In Chester County it is located at the Government Services Center (the same building where Voter Services is located), 601 Westtown Road, West Chester, and deposit it into the secure drop box at that location. Chester County — and I am sure many other counties — also have several “satellite” ballot drop boxes and “satellite” office locations. Check for times for locations listed since they are or may be staffed as well as being monitored.

The easiest way for my area to check is to go on to www.chesco.org/election to confirm locations and hours, but there will be information concerning date and time availability on the paper received with your mailer. All ballot drop box locations will be open on Election Day, Nov. 8, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. You must return only your own ballot, not others — the only exception being for certain disabled voters who have properly designated an agent. Check your local office for procedure.

The difference between a mail-in ballot and an absentee ballot is inconsequential now since mail-in ballots no longer require an excuse not to be present in the jurisdiction on election day. You can check receipt of your ballot on the tracking website previously indicated above. Mail-in ballots are not counted until election day. If you do not use the mail-in process, you can vote of course at the polls on election day.

Janet Colliton, Esq. is a Certified Elder Law Attorney approved as a specialty under the American Bar Association and the Pa. Supreme Court and limits her practice to elder law, retirement, life care, special needs, guardianships and estate planning and estate administration with offices at 790 East Market St., Ste. 250, West Chester, 610-436-6674, [email protected] She is a member of the National Academy and Pennsylvania Association of Elder Law Attorneys and, with Jeffrey Jones, CSA, co-founder of Life Transition Services LLC, a service for families with long term care needs.

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