Q&A with Matt Merriman-Preston about Voting by Mail in November’s Election

Earlier this year, I published two Q&A’s about the rapid changes to the Pennsylvania primary voting process, one with Kris Rust and one with Matt Merriman-Preston. In late July, I approached them about updating for the General Election.

Then Trump swooped down on the United States Post Office and tried to break it. He literally went postal. So while defending this one federal government institution enshrined in the Constitution (hey, the Founders!) became a priority to protect the integrity of the lection, I realized – we need to update.

I voted by mail in May. It was easy and having time made for me to make better informed decisions on the down ballot (delegates, judges, etc.) But I can’t lie – I was a little anxious that the Pennsylvania Department of Elections and the Allegheny County of Elections infrastructure would be able to handle it. I wasn’t actually worried about the post office.

Now, however, … (keep scrolling)

I went back to updating this content super quick. Laura and I both had requested ballots for  November election when we applied for the Primary, but there was no sort of confirmation about that. So we applied again a few weeks ago. Now I’m worried that applying twice will be an issue.

Everyone has questions and that is a very important issue to address. People want to understand the process, especially if they are going to be required to take more steps to vote.

Aside from applying and voting early, take the time to carefully read the instructions and follow them exactly. ~ Matt Merriman-PRestong

So we turned once again to Dr. Matt Merriman Preston for answers, (yep, he has Ph.D from Carnegie Mellon University – he is a man of science and elections.

“Stoic with a wry twinkle in his eye, feminist dad and political junkie who didn’t use his CMU degree Matt Merriman-Preston has more to say. Sometimes the power behind the thrones has to come out of the bike lane, stroke his beard, and get in front of the cameras. He’ll get uncomfortable to help save the world, but he’ll wear a mask while doing so ” 

Matt Merriman-Preston
Matt Merriman-Preston

All kidding aside, this is valuable information that you should bookmark and share. Voting may be different this year, but we cannot allow the complications to derail us – both in our vote for President and our local and regional elections. So please read this carefully and share with at leat one person who might need the information.


What steps do I need to take to vote by mail?

  1. Register to vote or check your voter registration.

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  2. Apply for a mail-in ballot.

  3. Complete and return your ballot as soon as you receive it.

Should I be concerned that my ballot won’t be delivered in time?

The best way to be sure that you receive your ballot in time and that your vote will be counted is to apply early.  You can apply for your mail-in ballot TODAY.  Ballots will be mailed when they are prepared, but not before mid-September.  As soon as it arrives, you can fill it out and send it back.  There’s no reason to believe that USPS will have any difficulty processing your ballot if you apply and vote as early as you can.

What can I do to make sure my ballot will count?

Aside from applying and voting early, take the time to carefully read the instructions and follow them exactly.  The Trump administration has filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania to disqualify ballots for errors like failing to seal your ballot in the secrecy envelope.  We don’t know whether he will be successful, but you should be confident that your ballot will count if you follow the instructions carefully.  Fill out your ballot, put it in the secrecy envelope, seal, sign, and mail.  Your postage is paid (thanks, Gov. Wolf!)

I voted by mail in the Primary Election.  Do I need to apply again?

Yes, unless you checked the “annual mail-in request” when you applied.  If you checked this box you will automatically receive a ballot for the General Election.  If you didn’t, then you will need to re-apply.  If you aren’t sure (because honestly, who would remember!) then you can check your status here.

How will I know if my ballot was received?

Pennsylvania’s Ballot Tracking page will tell you when your application was received and processed and when your ballot was mailed and received.

What if I don’t want to trust my ballot to the mail?

You are permitted to hand-deliver your ballot to your County Elections Office.  (You must personally deliver it; you cannot send it with someone else.)  There may be other drop-off options closer to the deadline, pending the outcome of federal lawsuits.

What if I need to or want to vote in person?  Or if I didn’t receive / can’t return my ballot in time?

You may still vote in person.  Be sure to check your polling place to be sure there were no changes.   If you requested a mail-in ballot but didn’t vote on it, you may need to vote by provisional ballot.  Polling places will be open 7am to 8pm.

Will there be changes to polling place locations again for the General Election?

We don’t know yet if the General Assembly will make changes to allow for polling place consolidation as they did before the Primary Election.  Check your polling place location for any changes when you make your plan to vote.

What important dates do I need to be aware of?

October 19 – Deadline to register to vote

October 27 – Last day to apply for a mail-in ballot (But don’t wait this long to apply!)

November 3, 8pm – Deadline for ballots to be received by the county

Will my vote count if it is postmarked by the deadline?

Not currently.  The Wolf administration has asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to extend the deadline to allow ballots postmarked by Election Day to count, but we don’t yet know what they will determine, so you should plan on sending your ballot in earlier.

Who can I contact if I need help?

Contact your County Elections office with questions.  You can report problems that cannot be resolved at 866-Our-Vote

Best advice if I want to vote by mail?

Apply early and vote as soon as you have your ballot.

I followed up with Matt, asking how the County and State will address accessibility of the drop boxes at the Elections Office. If Laura and I  go Downtown to Courthouse, I have to stay in the car while she goes thru security and drops off her ballot THEN she has to stay in car while I do the same because there’s no parking near that building. Or its $11parking fee and a decent walk, both of which can be barriers

 There’s a really wide range of outcomes from 2 lawsuits and we just don’t know yet. But accessibility is an important question to address.

Thank you, Matt. Our blog will follow this closely.

You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattMP  and his political consulting business on Facebook. Or visit their website.

Voter Registration Pennsylvania


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