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Credit: Isabel Liang

Nervous about voting during the pandemic in the battleground Commonwealth of Pennsylvania? Don't be. Here's your guide to voting in the 2020 general election in Philadelphia.  

Why should I vote?

Your vote is a key part of the county's democracy. It can help shape policy and government to reflect America’s diverse population.

Your vote is especially important in Pennsylvania as it is a swing commonwealth — or, a commonwealth where the number of Democratic and Republican voters fluctuate — one of the most important in deciding the winner of the election. Pennsylvania is by far the likeliest area in the country to provide either President and 1968 Wharton Graduate Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden with a decisive vote in the Electoral College, FiveThirtyEight reported, as it has a 31% chance of being the tipping-point state with its 20 electoral votes. In 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania by about 1%.

The deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania has passed. You can check your voter registration status at the Pennsylvania voter services website by entering one of three items: Your name, driver’s license number, or PennDOT ID.

Who's on your ballot for United States President?

The president is the head of the United States government, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The Republican incumbent, President Donald Trump, is running for a second, four-year term with Vice President Mike Pence. Former Vice President and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is running against him with vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Third party candidates, Libertarian nominee Jo Jorgensen and Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, are also on the ballot.

What is a mail-in or absentee ballot?

In Pennsylvania, there are two options for sending in your ballot by mail in advance: Absentee and mail-in. 

Although different in name, absentee ballots and mail-in ballots serve essentially the same purpose, are counted by county officials in the same manner, and appear almost identical in format.  Absentee ballots require the voter to list a reason they cannot vote in person — such as traveling out of state during the election, or having an illness or physical disability. Mail-in ballots, however, which are new in Pennsylvania this year, allow registered voters to cast their ballots remotely without providing a reason they cannot come to the polls in person.

Credit: Maria Murad

How do I request a mail-in or absentee ballot?

You must apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot by 5 p.m. on Oct. 27, 2020. All request forms must be received by your county election board or other designated location.

There are three options to request a mail-in or absentee ballot:

1) Apply for a mail-in ballot online at VotesPA.com/ApplyMailBallot.

2) Apply for a mail-in ballot by mail: Download and complete a paper mail-in or absentee ballot application and then send your application to the county election office. The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Oct. 27 (one week before the election).

3) Fill out a mail ballot application in person at your county elections office or other designated location, and you can receive a ballot on the spot.

How do I vote and return my mail-in or absentee ballot?

Under Pennsylvania law, voters must return their own ballots. Voters with a disability may designate someone else in writing to deliver their ballot. Because mail delivery times may be uncertain and unpredictable, it is recommended to request and return your ballots as soon as possible.

Step 1: Carefully read the instructions on your ballot and mark it. Make sure you complete the front and back of each page.

Step 2: In order for your ballot to be counted, you must seal your ballot in the white inner secrecy envelope.

Step 3: Lastly, you must seal the inner secrecy envelope in the pre-addressed outer return envelope. Then complete, sign, and date the voter’s declaration on the outside of the outer return envelope.

Step 4: As soon as you can, return your completed ballot to the county board of elections either by mail or in person. If you mail your ballot, your ballot return envelope must be postmarked by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 and received through USPS by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6. You can also hand deliver your ballot to your county elections office, to another official satellite county election office, or to a dropbox for mail ballots.

How will mail ballots be counted?

In Pennsylvania, mail ballots will not be opened and processed until after 7 a.m. on Election Day. 

How can I vote early?

You can go to an elections office and request a mail ballot application, have your application processed and receive a ballot, fill it out, and return the ballot there in one trip. The last day to participate in all-in-one early in-person voting is Oct. 27.

You can continue to drop off your mail-in ballot in person until Election Day, as long you’ve applied for it before Oct. 27.

How do I vote in person?

Although processes differ slightly by county, you can most likely visit your local polling place to vote on Election Day. Once there, you should check in with a poll worker who will sign you into a poll book, and then you can vote on a voting machine.

When are polling locations open?

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. You may stand in line before 7 a.m., which many voters do in order to cast an early vote, but you will be allowed to vote as long as you are in line by 8 p.m. 

The busiest hours of the day to vote are in the morning and evening, according to Pennsylvania's voter website.

Where can I vote? 

Philadelphia has 17 satellite election offices, and the city has 718 in-person polling locations which you can find here. Penn has two polling locations for on-campus residents at Houston Hall and the ARCH building. 

How can I volunteer on Election Day?

To be a paid poll worker, you can complete this online form and the Department of State will let your county elections office know that you're interested in the job. You can also contact your county election office directly, but that process may take longer. 

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