Act 77 of 2019, which was signed into law by the governor in October 2019, makes significant changes to voting in Pennsylvania, beginning with the upcoming April 28 Primary Election.
The first change involves voter registration. Moving forward, voter registration applications must now be received by the county board of elections no later than 15 days before the election. Previously, counties would accept applications that were simply postmarked by the deadline (which was 30 days before the election) but that is no longer permitted. Applicants may either return their application in person, or it must be received by mail by the county board of elections by the deadline.
The other significant changes involve early voting. In past elections, the only type of early voting in Pennsylvania was through an absentee ballot that could only be granted to voters who provided a reason why they could not get to their polling place on Election Day.
Beginning with the 2020 Primary Election, the deadline for civilian voted absentee ballots to be received by the county board of elections has been extended until 8 p.m. on Election Day. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot has not changed. It remains the Tuesday prior to the election. Also, anyone with a permanent illness or disability can ask to be placed on a permanent absentee voter list. Absentee voters who request to be placed on the permanent absentee list no longer have to renew their physician’s certification of continued disability every four years or list it on each application. Each year the county must send an application to any voter on the permanent absentee list by the first Monday in February.
In an effort to allow more people to participate in some type of early voting, voters can now vote by mail without having to qualify for an absentee ballot. Voters can apply for the new mail-in ballots using the same deadlines used to apply for absentee ballots. Also, any voter can request to be placed on a permanent mail-in voter list. Voters on the permanent mail-in voter list will receive an application for a ballot by the first Monday in February. The deadline to return a voted mail-in ballot to the county board of elections is 8 p.m. on Election Day.
I have long advocated for early voting in Pennsylvania and while these changes are not exactly what I had proposed, the mail-in option and the changes made to absentee ballots, the permanent absentee list, and allowing for voter registration closer to Election Day, will ultimately make it easier for citizens to participate in our democracy.
I encourage everyone to visit www.votespa.com to read more about the changes made to the Pennsylvania Election Code that I have outlined above. In the coming weeks, voters will be able to apply for absentee and mail-in ballots at www.votespa.com.