FAQ: Making Your 2020 Vote Plan

This year's election will be the first of its kind, with three different ways to cast a vote, and a still (partly) unsettled legal environment, and some added public health complications due to the COVID-19 emergency. Voters have lots of good questions about how it's all going to work, so to help clear up some of the most common ones, we created this FAQ with a first pass at some answers. Each week we'll send an email update with the voting options that are still available, based on dates and deadlines, plus any other important developments. Sign up here: http://phila3-0.org/join

The questions are sorted by the method of voting: by mail from home, by mail at a Satellite Election Office, and in-person on a voting machine. We'll keep this page updated as the situation develops, and as readers send us new questions. Please share this resource with any friends or neighbors who may have voting questions, and reach out with additional questions at info@phila3-0.org.


Voting by Mail

 

1. What are some common mistakes to avoid when completing my ballot? (and what’s the deal with “naked ballots”)?

Voting by mail is simple, but there are a few places where you could make a mistake and risk having your vote not counted. Take these precautions to be safe.

Fill out your mail ballot in blue or black ink. Make sure to fully fill in the bubbles. And don’t make any other stray marks on the ballot. 

Once you’ve completed your ballot, put it in the secrecy envelope and seal it. That’s the envelope that looks like this: 

Secrecy.png

Then, put the secrecy envelope inside the return envelope and seal it. That’s the envelope that looks like this: 

Return.png

A ballot without both of these envelopes is what people are calling a “naked ballot” and it’s important to get this part right because naked ballots won’t be counted. 

Lastly, sign and date the envelope on the back. Sign and date the left side of the envelope if you filled out your ballot yourself. If someone helped you fill out your ballot (as in, they filled it out for you) sign on the right side, and have your helper complete all the other info on the right. 

Declaration.png

Don’t forget your return address on the front. And don’t worry about a stamp, because the postage is already paid. 

 

2. Can I check the status of my mail ballot?

Yes, you can check here to see if your ballot request is still being processed or has been mailed, and after you return it, you can check to see if it has been received and counted. (Note: this page also takes a couple of minutes to load.)

 

3. When and where should I return my mail ballot?

We are now past the point when election officials would recommend putting your ballot in the mail, and from this point forward we advise that you only take your ballot in-person to a dropbox or a satellite election office. Technically, ballots postmarked by Tuesday, November 3rd will be counted so long as they’re received by Friday, November 6th, but the window is just too tight. 

Note: You cannot drop off someone else’s ballot for them at one of these locations. 

 

4. What if I requested a mail ballo, but changed my mind and want to vote in-person on Election Day instead?

The short answer: You can do it, but it might be complicated and could create some problems. 

The longer answer: There has been a lot of confusion about whether a voter who requested a mail ballot should bring their ballot to the poll on Election Day, "spoil" it, and vote on a machine instead. The idea here is that machine votes will be counted on Election Night and won't contribute to the piles of paper ballots that need to be processed, so switching a mail vote for a machine vote should help things move more quickly and easily.

Here's how it works. Bring the entire unopened ballot package to your polling place on Election Day. There, you can hand it to the Judge of Elections, who will “spoil” the ballot. Next, you will be given a declaration to complete, which basically affirms that you haven't already cast a ballot in this election, among other things. Once you've returned the declaration, you should be able to vote on a machine like usual.

However, there are two risks associated with the mail-for-machine vote switch:

First, there's the chance that voters who attempt the switch will be denied the opportunity to vote on a machine. If you opened your mail ballot, or are missing parts of it, or your Judge of Elections is unsure that you're allowed to spoil your ballot and vote on a machine, she may require you to vote on a provisional ballot. Voting by provisional ballot is the least-certain voting option -- you're voting provisionally -- and casting a completed mail ballot is preferable to this option. So if your Judge of Elections tries to push you to vote provisionally, for whatever reason, you shouldn't vote at your polling place; instead, you should complete your mail ballot and drop it off at a drop box or at an SEO on Election Day. 

Second, the switch is a cumbersome process which will be rolled out for the first time during this election. That would be a challenge under normal circumstances, but will be even more of an issue this year, when there will be thousands of first-time poll workers, many of whom didn't receive adequate training. For this reason, there is a very real chance that efforts to make the switch will create longer lines at the polls, and force people to wait inside their polling places for longer than they otherwise would. The last thing we want to happen is for the switch process to impact other voters, particularly those who don't have as much flexibility waiting in line.  

 

5. When will my vote be counted?

In Pennsylvania, mail votes can’t be counted until the polls close on Election Day. Unfortunately, they can’t be prepped for counting before 7am on Election Day, either. There were efforts at the state level to allow County Boards of Elections to “pre-canvass” mail ballots for counting before Election Day, which essentially means doing everything to process and sort the ballots short of scanning them.

But even though nearly everyone agreed that this change was both necessary and a good idea, Republicans in the legislature would not bring it up for a vote in the end.

As you’re setting your expectations for how long it’s going to take to get election results for Pennsylvania, presume that it will take at least three or four days to count all the votes cast in Philadelphia. Helpfully, the City Commissioners purchased ballot sorting machinery to expedite the process, so it ought to be much quicker than the three weeks it took after primary election day. They say about 12,000 ballots can be counted per hour, and expect to count 100,000 just on Election Day before the end of the night.

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Voting by Mail In-Person at a Satellite Election Office

As of Tuesday, September 29th, Philadelphia voters are able to cast a mail ballot in-person and before Election Day at a Satellite Election Office (SEO). This election will be the first time voters will be able to cast a ballot this way. 

 

1. What is a Satellite Election Office, or SEO?

SEOs are in-person mail voting locations. They aren't like traditional Election Day polling places, where voters cast their vote on a voting machine. You won’t have the option to vote on a voting machine at an SEO.

Up until October 19th, voters at an SEO were able to register to vote and complete a mail ballot in the same trip. Up until October 27th, they were able to request a mail ballot, fill it out, and turn it back in. 

During the current period after October 27th, you can still drop off a completed mail ballot at an SEO, or you can ask them to print out a replacement ballot for you if it was lost or damaged in some way. All that matters is that your initial mail ballot request was made before 5 pm on October 27th.

 

2. Where are SEOs and when are they open? 

There are 17 Satellite Election Offices, open Monday-Thursday from 11:30am - 4:30pm and Friday-Sunday from 9:30am - 4:30pm. You can vote at any of these locations with a completed mail ballot regardless of where you live. 

3. Can I vote at an SEO if I already requested a mail ballot?

Yes! Voters who have not received a ballot in the mail, but signed up for a mail ballot, can vote by mail in-person at an SEO. 

Waiting on your mail ballot? Click here to check on its status.

4. Can I drop off a completed mail ballot at an SEO? 

Yes! Voters can drop off a completed ballot that they received through the mail at an SEO. 

5. When will my vote be counted?

Since votes cast at SEOs are mail votes, they can’t be counted until the polls close on Election Day. We don’t know how long it will take to count all the mail ballots, however the City Commissioners have purchased ballot sorting machinery to expedite the process. The Commissioners plan to count votes around the clock, all day and night, until they’re finished.

As you’re setting your expectations for how long it’s going to take to get election results for Pennsylvania, assume that it will take at least three or four days to count all the votes cast in Philadelphia.

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Voting In-Person at Your Polling Place on Election Day

 

1. When are polls open on Election Day?

Polls open at 7:00 am on Tuesday, November 3rd and they close at 8:00 pm. So long as you’re in line at 8:00 you can vote, regardless of how long it takes.

2. Will I vote at my usual polling place this year? 

Most people will vote at their usual polling places, but it’s worth double-checking which ones are confirmed already, especially if you normally vote at a location that might be problematic from a COVID standpoint (senior centers, etc.)

The final list of confirmed polling places is available to view here:

https://www.philadelphiavotes.com/en/home/item/1844-2020_general_election_polling_place_update_9-23

3. Can I drop off my completed mail ballot at my polling place on Election Day?

No! We’re not totally sure why, but you can’t drop off your completed mail ballot at a polling place on Election Day. 

If you still have your mail ballot on Election Day, drop it off at a drop box at a Satellite Election Office.

4. What kind of safety protocols will be in place at polling locations?

The City Commissioners are still working on additional safety protocols, but we have a good sense of what things will look like on November 3rd. 

Both poll workers and voters will be provided with PPE -- masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer -- and voting machines will be wiped down after every use. Additionally, poll workers have the opportunity to be trained by The Voter Project on strategies to set-up their polling locations in as safe a manner as possible, including social distancing and limiting capacity. 

Voters can’t be denied the right to vote simply because they aren’t wearing a mask, however we learned two important things about pandemic polling places in the primary. First, the vast majority of voters behave in a safe and conscientious manner. And second, polling places are not covid hot spots, and there was no evidence of any community spread at any polling places in June. 

5. What if I request a mail ballot but change my mind and want to vote in-person on Election Day instead?

The short answer: You can do it, but it might be complicated and could create some problems. 

The longer answer: There has been a lot of confusion about whether a voter who requested a mail ballot should bring their ballot to the poll on Election Day, "spoil" it, and vote on a machine instead. The idea here is that machine votes will be counted on Election Night and won't contribute to the piles of paper ballots that need to be processed, so switching a mail vote for a machine vote should help things move more quickly and easily.

Here's how it works. Bring the entire unopened ballot package to your polling place on Election Day. There, you can hand it to the Judge of Elections, who will “spoil” the ballot. Next, you will be given a declaration to complete, which basically affirms that you haven't already cast a ballot in this election, among other things. Once you've returned the declaration, you should be able to vote on a machine like usual.

However, there are two risks associated with the mail-for-machine vote switch:

First, there's the chance that voters who attempt the switch will be denied the opportunity to vote on a machine. If you opened your mail ballot, or are missing parts of it, or your Judge of Elections is unsure that you're allowed to spoil your ballot and vote on a machine, she may require you to vote on a provisional ballot. Voting by provisional ballot is the least-certain voting option -- you're voting provisionally -- and casting a completed mail ballot is preferable to this option. So if your Judge of Elections tries to push you to vote provisionally, for whatever reason, you shouldn't vote at your polling place; instead, you should complete your mail ballot and drop it off at a drop box at an SEO on Election Day. 

Second, the switch is a cumbersome process which will be rolled out for the first time during this election. That would be a challenge under normal circumstances, but will be even more of an issue this year, when there will be thousands of first time poll workers, many of whom didn't receive adequate training. For this reason, there is a very real chance that efforts to make the switch will create longer lines at the polls, and force people to wait inside their polling places for longer than they otherwise would. The last thing we want to happen is for the switch process to impact other voters, particularly those who don't have as much flexibility waiting in line. 

 

7. When will my vote be counted? 

Votes cast on voting machines on Election Day will be tabulated after the polls close that night.


Have a question that we didn’t cover? Email us at
info@phila3-0.org, and we’ll update this FAQ. 

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  • Jon Geeting
    published this page in Action 2020-09-29 08:31:22 -0400