Pennsylvania voters will be able to mail-in their ballots for the first time in history without a reason, but county election officials say they are not sure how it will affect the upcoming presidential primary in April.
The Secretary of State’s Office is accepting applications for the online ballots starting this week and will do so until April 21, a week before the primary. Voters will need to have a driver’s license, the last four numbers on their Social Security card or have an acceptable form of identification like a military ID card or passport. Counties must begin processing mail-in ballots on March 9, according to information for the Secretary of State’s office.
Mail-in ballots were part of an election reform package passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019 that gives voters a 50-day window to return their ballots. Voters can still ask for an absentee ballot if they have an illness, will be out of state or have another reason they cannot vote on Election Day.
Unlike absentee ballots, voters do not need a reason to want to vote by mail. They can visit their county elections office and ask for a ballot and are allowed to fill it out in person. Some election officials are concerned about the strain on county election staffs.
“County voter registration offices do not have the staff or resources to serve as an early in-person vote center, and that is what Act 77 is going to turn us into,” said Forrest Lehman, director of elections for Lycoming County at a hearing of the Senate Majority Policy Committee last month.
Voters can turn their ballot in as late as 8 p.m. on the day of the election. That timeline has some county election officials concerned about the delay in results and what voter turnout will be.
“We don’t know how many ballots we are going to need to send out,” said Timothy Benyo, chief clerk for the Lehigh County Office of the Election Board at the hearing. “We don’t know how many ballots are going to be returned. We don’t know how many people are going to show up at the polls.”
Twenty-eight Pennsylvania counties are also using new voting machines for the first time in the presidential primary, which could cause further delays in getting results.
Act 77 also gave voters 15 extra days to register before a primary or general election. The deadline to register for the April 28 presidential primary is April 13.