Pennsylvanians seeking to vote by absentee ballot can apply online starting next week, rather than making the request by mail or in person.
Absentee voters can apply for a ballot starting Monday, Sept. 16, at votesPA.com/ApplyAbsentee. After approval by the voter’s county election office, the absentee ballot is delivered by mail to the voter.
Voters will still be required to mail or hand-deliver their ballots to election offices. For the Nov. 5 election, absentee ballots must be received by Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. The deadline to apply for the absentee ballot is Oct. 29 by 5 p.m.
Voters may cast absentee ballots if they are sick or disabled or will out of town on business or vacation. Pennsylvania students attending out-of-state colleges and universities may also vote absentee.
While active military and civilians overseas may vote absentee, they may not yet apply online. Wanda Murren, a Pennsylvania Department of State spokeswoman, said the state will begin offering online registration to this group of absentee voters in 2020.
Absentee voting requires applicants to submit a Pennsylvania driver’s license or ID number.
Gov. Tom Wolf had said the changes will speed up the application process, making absentee voting accessible for thousands of voters.
Westmoreland County will have a link to the new on-line application on the elections bureau page of the county’s website at: www.co.westmoreland.pa.us/251/Elections.
More than 2,200 absentee ballot applications were processed by county staffers for the 2017 municipal election and more are expected for the 2020 Presidential election. The county received more than 9,800 applicatons for absentee ballots during the 2016 general election for president.
“It will benefit our staff since we won’t be opening as many envelops, sorting through them and entering data for every application received,” said Elections Bureau Director Beth Lechman.
Based on previous elections, David Voye, manager of the Allegheny County Elections Division, estimated the county will receive about 5,000 absentee ballot applications.
Of the 8.5 million registered voters in Pennsylvania in 2018, 186,661 voted absentee, or roughly 2 percent.
In 2018, absentee voters accounted for 2.7% of Allegheny County’s 951,195 registered voters. while in Westmoreland County they represented 2.5% of the county’s 247,357 registered voters.
Although the online option adds convenience for voters who previously had to apply by mail or in person, the system’s critics note that Pennsylvania has some of the nation’s strictest regulations and that eliminating these barriers could improve voter turnout. More than 30 states have excuse-free absentee voting. Pennsylvania voters, however, must attest to the reason for the absence and if able to vote in person, must void their absentee ballot.
“The people affected by these laws are not random,”said Victoria Shineman, a political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies mass political behavior and electoral institutions. “Any time we can create a policy that increases voting, you increase representation.”
Shineman noted that the state’s application deadline, which is a week before the election, adversely impacts Pennsylvanians without a vehicle or those who work multiple jobs or have children at home. The state’s tight absentee voting deadline means voters often miss the cut-off date.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission ranked Pennsylvania second in the rate of missed-deadlines, behind Delaware. More than 8,500 in last year’s general election were rejected.
“A postmark is not sufficient,” said Murren, explaining why some absentee votes are rejected.