How to cast your vote in Pa.’s May 18 election

By: - April 27, 2021 6:30 am

It’s election season yet again in Pennsylvania. 

Registered voters will have the chance to weigh in on ballot questions, fill vacant legislative seats and vote in judicial and municipal primaries on Tuesday, May 18

Here’s what you need to know to cast your ballot. 

Who can vote on May 18?

All Pennsylvania voters will be able to weigh in on four ballot questions. 

Registered voters in four legislative districts will also vote in special elections to fill vacant House and Senate seats:

  • The 48th state Senate district, in Lebanon, York and Dauphin Counties
  •  the 22nd state Senate District, in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties
  • The 59th House District, in Westmoreland and Somerset Counties.
  • The 60th House District, in Indiana, Armstrong, and Butler Counties.

You can check here to see if you live in one of those jurisdictions.

But the marquee events on May 18 are the primary races for statewide judicial candidates and municipal officials. These races will decide which candidates will appear on the General Election ballot in November. Only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in Pennsylvania’s primaries

First things first: are you registered?

You have to be a registered voter to cast a ballot in the May 18 election. You can check your registration status here

If you aren’t registered, the deadline is Monday, May 3.

You’re eligible if you:

  • Have been a United States citizen for at least 30 days before Election Day
  • Have been a resident of Pennsylvania (and your election district) for at least 30 days before Election Day
  • Are at least 18 years old on Election Day

You can register to vote online in Pennsylvania. But you can also submit your registration by mail, or in-person at their county election office or certain government agencies such as the DMV. 

Did you recently move? You can also use this form on the Pennsylvania Department of State website. You’ll need to provide a state-issued driver’s license number or a social security number. 

Can I change my party affiliation to vote in the primaries?

Yes, unaffiliated voters have until May 3 to switch their registration to Democratic or Republican if they want to vote in one of those primaries on May 18. 

You can use this form from the Department of State if you want to update your registration online. You’ll need a Pennsylvania driver’s license or PennDOT ID number to complete the form, but can provide the last four digits of your social security number if you don’t have one.

Alternatively, you can print out a paper application and submit it to your county election office. 

Want to vote by mail?

All voters in Pennsylvania can cast ballots by mail

You can request a ballot online using this form from the Department of State. You must be a registered voter, and will need a state-issued driver’s license to complete the request.

Voters have until Tuesday, May 11 – one week before the election – to request mail-in ballots. But election officials urge voters to act sooner if you’re having your ballot mailed to you

It can take a few days for your ballot to arrive – and it won’t be counted if it arrives after Election Day, regardless of when you mail it back.  

You can also go to your county election office and request your ballot in-person. They’ll hand it over on demand and let you fill it out on the spot. 

How to deliver your mail-in ballot

When you’ve filled out the ballot with the votes you want to cast, you put it in the enclosed secrecy envelope. You then put that sealed envelope in a larger, pre-addressed envelope, which you sign, date and drop in the mail. (Sound complicated? This guide lays out all the components.)

Pennsylvania’s Department of State provided pre-paid postage for all mail-in ballots last year. But you’ll need to provide your own stamp this time around, unless your county is opting to pay for postage. 

If you’d rather deliver your ballot by hand, you can take it straight to your county election office. Some counties also operate satellite offices or provide secure drop boxes where voters can deliver their ballots without putting them in the mail. 

Whether you deliver your ballot by hand or rely on the mail, remember: The deadline to return your ballot to your county election office is 8 p.m. on Election Day. Ballots that arrive late won’t be counted. 

What’s this about early voting?

Pennsylvania offers a form of early voting to anyone who wants to go to a county election office and request a mail-in ballot in person. You can fill it out and hand it back on the spot, submitting your ballot without interacting with the postal service. 

This service is only available at county election offices, and typically only during normal business hours. But some counties may extend their hours or establish satellite sites to on-demand mail-in ballots more widely available. We recommend checking with your county to see if it’s an option. 

How to vote in person

Polls across Pennsylvania are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

You can use this site to find your polling place, which is assigned based on the address you provided when you registered to vote.

If you vote in person, remember that COVID-19 remains a threat. State health officials still recommend that you wear a mask and practice social distancing if you’re in an indoor gathering. 

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.