The term “Election Day” is kind of a misnomer these days. Now we kind of have whole Election Seasons, thanks to recent voting laws that let Pennsylvanians vote up to 50 days before any election. The latest one begins today, March 29, and ends with in-person voting during the primary on May 18.
Local election experts tell us that official ballots aren’t ready yet, but we should expect them to be completed sometime around the first week of April. But don’t let that give you pause. Now is the time to make sure we’ve done everything to actually be able to vote this spring—whether you want to vote by mail-in ballot or walk into a polling place—mask on!—on May 18.
You could check out our guide to how to vote in the Pennsylvania primary (that’s always a good thing to have on hand), or keep reading for a quick FAQ that should answer all the questions you’ll need to get that vote cast by May 18.
Who’s running for office in Philadelphia in 2021?
Like I said earlier, the official ballots aren’t complete yet. We do know that three people are running to be your next District Attorney: incumbent Larry Krasner, Democrat Carlos Vega and Republican Chuck Peruto. The Philadelphia City Controller will also be on the ballot, but as of yet there is only one person running: incumbent Rebecca Rhynhart. You’ll also be voting on a slew of judicial seats. (Stay tuned for our upcoming voter guides that layout all the offices up for grabs, ballot questions and more.)
There’s no president or mayor on the ballot. Why should I care to vote?
Oh, dear citizen, where to begin? How about with this: It (might) pay. To increase turnout, The Citizen is offering five random voters $1,000 each just for casting a ballot, through our Citizen Municipal Election Voter Lottery.
But there are a bevy of other reasons to cast a ballot this year: You get to help choose the city’s top prosecutor, and decide who will oversee courtrooms from here to the state Supreme Court, and vote on ballot questions that can affect the future of our state.
You should also care because if you don’t, politicians won’t care about you: They may not know how you vote, but they can know if you vote—and if we want our electeds to do right by Philly, then we need to let them know we’re paying attention. Need more reasons? We’ve got them here and here (different elections, same idea).
What are the ballot questions, by the way?
Currently, we’ll be voting on three ballot measures in the 2020 Pennsylvania primary—a Constitutional amendment that would ensure equal rights regardless of race or ethnicity; an executive order that addresses the governor’s emergency powers; and a legislative resolution that gives the state legislature power to extend or cancel a emergency declaration by resolution. A few potential measures are also in the works. You can read about all of them here.
When is the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania?
May 3, 2021, is the last day to register to vote or update your voter registration (in case you need to change your address or party). If you want to vote by mail or get an absentee ballot, you must register to do that by May 11, 2021.
I voted by mail in 2020. Do I have to sign up again to receive a mail-in ballot?
Yes! Unfortunately, you have to request mail ballots again every year at Votes Pa in order to vote from home. If you voted by mail last year, you may have received an application to reapply in your mailbox. You must return that—or sign up online—by the deadline on May 11. (Though given the slow pace of the mail these days, better to do it earlier!) You can check your registration status here. This page will answer more of your questions about absentee and mail-in ballots.
How do I check my voter registration status in PA?
It’s so easy: Head to this site and enter one of three criteria: your name, driver’s license number or PennDOT ID.
What do I do once I receive my mail-in ballot?
Do your due diligence (read: peruse our voter guide!) then get that sucker filled out and mailed in ASAP. Don’t wait till the last day or even week to do it. Mail is slow AF these days. You can find instructions on how to fill it out and seal it properly here. The best option, however, could be to drop it off at your county board of elections office, which you can find here. You may also have options for drop boxes and satellite election offices (SEOs) spread throughout the city. Details about those will emerge as election season rolls along.
I want to vote in person this year. Can I still do that?
Absolutely. You can find your polling location here. Be sure to check it out no matter how confident you are; voting places have been known to move around in the era of Covid. What we know for sure (barring some new pandemic wave): Polls will be open Tuesday, May 18, from 7am to 8pm. That means that you can get in line to vote before 7am, and you can vote as long as you were in line before 8pm—even if you don’t get into the actual voting booth until later.
Is there anything I can do to help elections run smoothly this year?
You bet. One of the best things you can do is become a poll worker—something that, according to the Inquirer, is sorely lacking this election season. To do that, you need to fill out and submit this poll worker interest form. After that, someone from your county board of elections office will contact you to give you an assignment—and yes, it’s a paid position. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you don’t hear from anyone (and let us know about it, because we’ll make a fuss!) You could also post about your experience and join an intrepid contingent of Philly poll workers by joining this Poll Worker Caucus Facebook group.
By the way, what are my rights as a voter in Pennsylvania?
We’re glad you asked! You can find a good rundown of Pennsylvania voters’ rights and responsibilities right here.
Is there anything else I can do besides voting to make Philadelphia a better city?
Yes, engaged citizen, we actually have plenty of suggestions for that: Earlier in the year we laid out 52 things (one for every week) that you can do to make the city better in 2021. We dropped this handy list of ways to take action and save democracy following the frightening insurrection on the Capitol. You could also do your part to stand up for social justice, and by all means get out there and support Philadelphia’s restaurants and Black-owned businesses—because when they thrive, we all do.
If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to email us. We’ll do everything we can to get you an answer. Until then … happy Election Season 2021!Photo by Dan Dennis / Unsplash