Many people know Act 77 established a new vote-by-mail system for Pennsylvania, but there’s less public awareness around a couple unsung features of the law, because they haven’t debuted yet due to the pandemic.
The big one is the in-person early-voting satellite locations where people will be able to request, complete and hand in their absentee ballots in a single trip. And excitingly, individuals who aren’t registered to vote can both register to vote and vote in-person in one fell swoop during the first few weeks the early vote centers are running.
This is still officially absentee voting, since the ballots are scanned later on, so there’s no mailing involved.
This week election officials from around southeast PA announced intentions to open several such locations—with a big asterisk around funding—including as many as 17 in Philadelphia, reports Jonathan Lai.
Philadelphia election officials hope to set up 17 such early voting sites, including at their main office at City Hall, if they can secure funding to do so and overcome other hurdles.
Montgomery County officials are planning five locations, including at the county government office in Norristown. Delaware County officials have already approved two sites, in Upper Darby and Media, and are likely to approve a third in Chester.
They are also hoping to create a portable office that can travel around Delaware County. And Bucks County officials will vote this week on a plan to set up three voting sites at government buildings in Quakertown, Doylestown, and Levittown.[…]
Unlike traditional early voting, in which people use voting machines the same way they would at polling places on Election Day, Pennsylvania’s method uses mail ballots.
Under a new Pennsylvania law enacted last year, any voter is allowed to vote by mail. And in addition to requesting a ballot online or through a form in the mail, voters in any county can go to their county election office and request a mail ballot that is printed and given to them there. They can then fill out the ballot and return it immediately […]
[Deputy Commissioner Nick] Custodio said Philadelphia’s satellite offices would cost more than $100,000 each to equip and run—meaning it would cost more than $1.5 million for the 15 locations the city commissioners are hoping to set up in addition to their existing two offices.
With the possibility that dropboxes could be out of the picture due to the RNC lawsuit, these staffed satellite offices are the next best option for early voting options close to people’s homes, and the good news is that it won’t take very much money to make it happen.
The amounts of money involved in staffing 17 satellite offices and also sending every voter a ballot application—which some evidence suggests closed the education gap in mail-voting in Allegheny and Luzerne—are minuscule in terms of political money.
As bad as the city’s budget situation is, it is still worth it to Mayor Kenney and City Council members to spend the $3 to 4 million that’s needed to get Philly’s early voting rates up during the 50-day early-voting window that starts in September.
Need more information about voting in November? Check out info on …
- How to check your voter registration in PA
- How to register to vote in PA
- How to find your polling place and other post-registration facts
- How to request mail-in ballots for the 2020 election
Jon Geeting is the director of engagement at Philadelphia 3.0, a political action committee that supports efforts to reform and modernize City Hall. This is part of a series of articles running on both The Citizen and 3.0’s blog.Header photo by justgrimes / Flickr