Voter ID Issues: Voting by Absentee Ballot

Voter ID Issues for All Voters: Voting By Absentee or Alternative Ballot

Download handbook at a PDF

A. What should voters do if they can’t vote in person on November 6?

Voters who expect to be absent from their home counties on November 6 because of their duties, occupation or business (including leaves of absence for teaching, vacations or sabbaticals) are eligible to vote by absentee ballot. Voters who will be in their home counties may still qualify for an absentee ballot if they are (a) county employees prevented from voting because of their Election Day duties, (b) observing a religious holiday, (c) in the military, or (d) unable to go to the polls or operate a voting machine and obtain assistance by distinct and audible statements.

B.  Are there special rules for voting by absentee ballot?

Unless a voter is in the military or living overseas and applying for an absentee ballot, the voter must prove his/her identity by providing one of the following on an application for an absentee ballot:

1.    The voter’s driver’s license number or PennDOT photo ID number, or
2.    The last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number (if he/she doesn’t have a driver’s license), or
3.    A copy of any photo ID that would be acceptable if the voter were voting in person at the polls (See Question A. in the previous section), or
4.    A non-photo driver’s license or other non-photo ID issued by PennDOT (if the voter has a religious objection to being photographed). 

For information on voting by absentee ballot, call 1-877-VOTESPA (1-877-868-3772) or go to: http://www.votespa.com/portal/server.pt/community/how_to_vote/13515/voting_by_absentee_ballot.

C. Can voters who are wheelchair-bound vote by absentee ballot even if they are going to be in their home county on Election Day and their polling place is handicapped accessible?

Yes. If a voter is unable to attend his/her polling place because of illness/physical disability or is unable to operate a voting machine or obtain assistance by distinct and audible statements, he/she is eligible to vote by absentee ballot. A voter who has a permanent illness or disability may be placed on a permanently disabled absentee ballot list

Note: a voter witha  permanent disability can also vote by alternative ballot. (See question N)

d. What is a “permanently disabled absentee ballot list”?

Voters who have a permanent illness or disability that prevents them from physically going to the polls or operating a voting machine and obtaining assistance by distinct and audible statements – as opposed to voters who have an illness or disability that prevents them from participating in one election – are eligible for placement on a list that entitles them to receive an absentee ballot application by mail for each primary and general election as long as he/she remains eligible to vote.

In order to get on this list, the voters must file a certification of disability by his/ her attending physician with his/her county Board of Elections. It is not necessary to file a physician’s certificate of disability with each application for an absentee ballot. However, the voter must submit a written statement asserting his/her continued disability every four years in order to remain on the permanently disabled absentee ballot list.

E. What are the rules for military and overseas voters?

Qualified absentee voters in the U.S. military (and their dependents), as well as other U.S. citizens living abroad, are exempt from having to provide proof of their identity with their absentee ballot applications. Most absentee voters in the U.S. military and their dependents apply for an absentee ballot using the Federal Post Card Application, which can be seen here.

Note: A qualified voter who is in the U.S. military may apply for an absentee ballot, regardless of whether he/she is registered to vote.

F. Are retired military voters also exempt from proving their identity?

No, qualified absentee voters who are retired and their dependents are required to prove their identity when applying for an absentee ballot, just like most voters applying for an absentee ballot (see Question B. above).

G. How can voters get an absentee ballot application?

A qualified absentee ballot voter can get an absentee ballot application by downloading an Absentee Ballot Application and mailing it to their county Board of Elections or by requesting an application in writing from their county Board of Elections (see Question N. in Voter ID Issues: Voting In Person at the Polls for contact information). The application by letter must be signed by the voter and include the same information as required on the absentee ballot form.

County Boards of Election must receive absentee ballot applications no later than 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before Election Day (October 30).

H. What happens if a voter’s absentee ballot application is rejected?

If a voter can’t prove his/her identity properly, or proof can’t be verified by the voter’s county Board of Elections after they receive the voter’s application, the voter will still receive an absentee ballot. The voter will also get a notice that he/she must provide acceptable proof of his/her identity or his/her absentee ballot won’t count.

In order for an absentee ballot to count, the voter has six calendar days after the election to prove his/her identity to his/her county Board of Elections. This can be done electronically, by mail, by fax – or by showing up in person at the county Board of Elections. See Question N. in Voter ID Issues: Voting in Person at the Polls  for instructions on how to locate all Pennsylvania Boards of Election.

Note: Because six calendar days after the November 6 election falls on Monday, November 12 – and government offices are closed for Veterans’ Day – the deadline for voters (whose proof of identity cannot be verified by his/her county Board of Elections) to prove his/her identity so that their absentee ballot will count is Tuesday, November 13.

I. When are absentee ballots due?

County Boards of Election must receive voted absentee ballots no later than 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day (November 2).

J. When are absentee ballots counted?

Absentee ballots are counted after the in-person votes, usually as part of the official count that begins several days after the election. Absentee ballots from voters whose identity cannot be verified will not be counted.

K. What happens if a voter can’t vote in person at the last minute?

Voters who experience an emergency (e.g., an illness or an unexpected out-of-town trip) after the deadline for absentee ballot applications can obtain an “emergency ballot application” by downloading an Emergency Absentee Ballot Application Form and mailing it to their county Board of Elections or by requesting an application in writing from their county Board of Elections (see Question N. in Voter ID Issues: Voting in Person at the Polls for contact information). On the application, the voter must attest to the emergency before a notary public.

L. When are emergency absentee applications due?

Emergency absentee ballot applications must be submitted to the voter’s county Board of Election between 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before Election Day (October 30) and 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day (November 2).

M. When are emergency absentee ballots due?

Emergency absentee ballots must be received by the voter’s county Board of Election by 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day (November 2).

NOTE: There are special procedures for voters who experience an emergency after 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day (November 2). Those procedures are outlined at:http://www.votespa.com/portal/server.pt/community/how_to_vote/13515/voting_by_absentee_ballot.

N. What is an alternative ballot?

Voters with a disability, or who are at least 65 years of age and have been assigned to a polling place deemed inaccessible by their county Board of Elections, are eligible to vote by alternative ballot. The new voter ID law does not require alternative ballot voters to show any proof of identification.

For information on voting by alternative ballot, call 1-877-VOTESPA (1-877-868-3772) or go to: http://www.votespa.com/portal/server.pt/community/how_to_vote/13515/voting_by_alternative_ballot.

O. How can voters find out if their polling places are handicapped accessible?

Voters who live in Philadelphia County can call 215-686-3469 to find out if their polling place is handicapped accessible on November 6. A list of handicapped accessible polling place as of the April 2012 primary is available at: http://phillyelection.com/aceng.htm.

Voters who live outside Philadelphia County and want to know if their polling place is handicapped accessible should call 1-877-VOTESPA (1-877-868-3772) or contact their county Board of Elections (see Question N. in Voter ID Issues: Voting in Person at the Polls for contact information).

P. How can voters get an alternative ballot application?

A qualified alternative ballot voter can get an alternative ballot application by downloading an Alternative Ballot Form and mailing it to their county Board of Elections or by requesting an application in writing from their county Board of Elections (see Question N. in Voter ID Issues: Voting in Person at the Polls for contact information). The application by letter must be signed by the voter and include the same information as required on the alternative ballot application form.

Q. When are alternative ballot applications due?

Alternative ballot applications must be received by the voter’s county Board of Elections no later than 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before Election Day (October 30).

R. When are alternative ballots due?

County Boards of Election must receive voted alternative ballots no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day (November 6).

S. When are alternative ballots counted?

Like absentee ballots, alternative ballots are counted after the in-person votes, usually as part of the official count that begins several days after the election.


Back to main voter ID page
Download handbook as a PDF

Back to top