Changes In Voting Law: Mail-in Ballots, Early Voting, Longer Time Period To Register To Vote
By Ali Perelman, Committee Person, Div. 13
This primary, Pennsylvania voters will be able to cast their ballot in three ways. This notable change to our election system — the first in a generation — increases access to the ballot and provides options for voters who may be limited in their ability to vote at the polls on Election Day.
What is Act 77?
Act 77 an expensive election modernization bill that was championed by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and passed into law in November of last year.
What does Act 77 change?
Act 77 extends the voter registration window from 30 days to 15 days pre-election. Importantly, the biggest barrier to voting for communities of color is low rates of voter registration. Only 55% of voting-eligible people of color in the state are registered to vote; conversely, 73% of the voting-eligible white population is registered. This translates to a statewide racial voter registration gap of nearly 800,000 non-voters of color. This bill moves us materially closer to same-day registration, which is the single most powerful election reform, as measured by impact on electoral participation.
Act 77 allocates $90M in funding to counties for the procurement of voting machines that include an auditable and verifiable paper ballot backup. This funding allocation is important because the PA DOS required all counties to transition to voting machines with paper backups for the 2020 election cycle; prior to the passage of Act 77, that requirement was an unfunded mandate.
Finally, Act 77 allocates $4M for the Department of State to conduct Census outreach across the Commonwealth. Remember: Every conversation with a neighbor about the election is an opportunity to discuss the 2020 Census. We must ensure that all our neighbors are counted.
Act 77 provides voters with three ways to cast a ballot
- Voters may continue to vote at their polling place on Election Day as they always have. Notably, starting this year, voters will not have the opportunity to press a button for “straight ticket,” and will instead have to manually vote for each office.
- Voters may now vote early and in person at a location to be determined by the City Commissioners office. At the time of publication, the Commissioners had not yet detailed their plan for early voting; however, Act 77 requires that counties provide at least one location for voters to cast ballots up to a month in advance of Election Day.
- Voters may now vote by mail without an excuse. Voters may sign up for a vote by mail (VBM) ballot online (VotesPA.com/ApplyMailBallot) beginning 50 days before an election. Ballot may be returned either by mail or by hand to the Board of Election until the close of the polls on Election Day, and there is a chance secure drop boxes will be made available for use, as well. Additionally, voters may sign up to be placed on the “permanent” mail-in ballot list, which ensures that they are automatically mailed ballots for any election in that calendar year without having to submit additional requests.
Importantly, any voter who requests a mail ballot but decides to vote in person on Election Day will be required to vote via a provisional ballot, even if that voter did not return their mail ballot. For this reason, you should only request a mail ballot if you intend to use your mail ballot to cast your vote.