Graham Gives Update on PA Election Code Changes

CLEARFIELD – Dawn Graham, election director, gave an update on the slate of changes made to the Pennsylvania Election Code, during Tuesday’s regular Clearfield County Commissioners’ meeting.

Graham said on Oct. 31, 2019, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 77 of 2019 into law, a historic election reform bill that makes the most significant improvements to Pennsylvania’s elections in more than 80 years.

She said that Act 77 allows more convenient and secure voting, and that most voters can now vote by mail-in ballot. Additionally, she said voters will have more time to register to vote and to return their absentee or mail-in ballots.

She said that the election reform bill extends the deadline for voter registration for any election to 15 days before Election Day, as opposed to 30 days.

The application must be in the county Election office by the close of business on the day of the deadline, and Graham noted that postmarks are no longer considered timely.

Absentee Voting

Graham said the deadline for the county to receive a regular absentee ballot is now 8 p.m. on Election Day, and applications must be received by the county Election office by 5 p.m. the Tuesday before any election.

Absentee ballots are available for anyone who will be out of their municipality on Election Day or who is ill or has a permanent disability.

Graham said if a voter has a permanent disability, they may ask to be placed on a permanent absentee voter list.  If they are on this list, they will have an absentee ballot application mailed to them by the first Monday in February each year (unless they ask to be removed).

She said if they complete and return the application, the county will send their ballots in the mail for all the elections that take place that year, as well as for any special election held through the third Monday in February of the next year.

For example, if voters return their completed absentee application in February 2020, they will automatically receive a ballot for the April 28, 2020 Primary and the Nov. 3, 2020, General Election, as well as ballots for any special elections held on or before Feb. 15, 2021.

Graham noted that voters who ask to be placed on the permanent list will need to provide a completed doctor’s affidavit, which can be found on the second page of the absentee application.

She emphasized that if a voter is sent a regular absentee ballot and the county receives their voted ballot by the deadline (8 p.m. on Election Day), they may not vote at their polling place because their vote is considered final at that point.

However, if a voter doesn’t return their voted absentee ballot or isn’t sure whether or not it’s been received, she said they may be able to vote a provisional ballot at their polling place.

Mail-In Voting

Graham said voters may now vote by mail-in ballot, unless they qualify as an absentee voter, in which case they should vote by absentee ballot. If voters want to vote by mail, she said they must apply specifically for a mail-in ballot.

She noted that voters do not need to provide a reason or doctor’s affidavit if they want to use a mail-in ballot. The county must receive the voter’s application for a mail-in ballot by 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before the election.

She said voters can return their voted mail-in ballot by mailing it to their county board of elections using the envelope provided, or they can drop it off in person at the board of election’s office.

Regardless of the voter’s method of return, Graham said the county must receive the voted ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order for it to be counted.

Graham said voters may also opt to be placed on a permanent mail-in voter list. If a voter is on this list, they will have a mail-in ballot application mailed to them by the first Monday in February each year (unless they asked to be removed).

If they complete and return the application, the county will send them ballots in the mail for all the elections that take place that year, as well as for any special election held through the third Monday in February of the next year.

For example, if voters return their completed mail-in application in February 2020, they will automatically receive a ballot for the April 28, 2020 Primary and the Nov. 3, 2020, General Election, as well as ballots for any special elections held on or before Feb. 15, 2021.

Graham emphasized that if a voter is sent a mail-in ballot and the county receives their voted ballot by the deadline (8 p.m. on Election Day), they cannot vote at their polling place because it’s already considered final at that point.

However, if a voter doesn’t return their voted mail-in ballot or isn’t sure whether or not it’s been received, she said they may be able to vote a provisional ballot at their polling place.

Application for Absentee or Mail-in Ballots

Graham said voters can apply for either an absentee or mail-in ballot online at votesPa.com. Applications may be requested through the county Election office.

She said the applications are also available on the Clearfield County Web site, clearfieldco.org, and can be printed and returned.

Graham noted several other PA Election Code changes, which include:

  • the elimination of straight-party voting. She said there will no longer be a shortcut straight-party button to vote for all candidates of one party. Now she said voters will have to select each candidate individually.
  • no stickers to vote for write-in candidates. She said voters will not be allowed to use stickers or paste-on labels for write-in candidates because the ballot-scanning machines cannot read them and may become jammed. The law now says that write-in names may be written or stamped.
  • Circulators of nomination petitions no longer need to be residents of the election district where they circulate petitions, though they must still be a registered voter in Pennsylvania. If an individual is going to circulate petitions, they must now complete a statement under penalty of perjury for signature pages, instead of a notarized affidavit.

Graham said circulators should not use any “old” petitions because they are no longer valid. She said they should always obtain their petition packets from the county Election office.

Graham strongly encouraged people to contact the Election office by phone, e-mail or in person for any additional information, questions or instructions.

The county’s Election office is located at 212 E. Locust St., Suite 106, Clearfield, and can be reached via phone at 814-765-2642, Ext. 5053, or e-mail at elections@clearfieldco.org or voterreg@clearfieldco.org.

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