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Deadlines upcoming for voter registration, mail-in ballot requests

First-time voters have until Oct. 23 to register for this year's municipal elections. County elections offices must receive requests for mail-in or absentee ballots by Oct. 31.
Steven White/Getty Images
First-time voters have until Oct. 23 to register for this year's municipal elections. County elections offices must receive requests for mail-in or absentee ballots by Oct. 31.

County election officials and voting advocates remind Pennsylvanians of fast-approaching deadlines to participate in the Nov. 7 municipal elections.

If you’ve never voted before, you have until Monday, Oct. 23rd to fill out a voter registration form. And the deadline to request a mail-in or absentee ballot – Tuesday, Oct. 31 – is less than three weeks away.

Besides county and municipal races, Pa. voters will also determine who fills a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and which judges will serve on the Commonwealth and Superior Courts. Some counties, like Lackawanna, Luzerne, Carbon, Monroe and Pike, will decide who assumes the roles of county commissioner or councilmember.

Elizabeth Forrest with the League of Women Voters of Pike County, a voter education and advocacy group, said municipal elections have historically low turnout, but have a big effect on voters. The expansion of mail-in voting in 2019 boosted voter turnout in more recent Pike County elections, she said.

And it’s easier than ever to request a mail-in or absentee ballot, Forrest said. If you know you’ll be out of town on Nov. 7 or anticipate difficulty in getting to your polling place, you can go to vote.pa.gov to fill out a request form.

Voters can also request a paper application for a mail-in or absentee ballot by contacting their county elections office or by calling 1-877-VOTESPA. You can also track the status of your absentee or mail-in ballots via a Pa. Department of State tool.

Results of mail-in voting expansion

Earlier this year, a Franklin and Marshall College poll showed that support for mail-in voting among Pennsylvanians has slightly declined since 2020, dropping from 58% to 50%. But those polled are still confident in their vote getting counted.

Four years into the mail voting expansion, some counties are seeing more people cast ballots. A few elections directors in Northeast Pennsylvania say this year’s municipal election could have a better turnout compared to previous years, in part due to the adoption of mail-in voting.

Pike County Director of Elections Nadeen Manzoni said this May’s municipal primary had a better turnout than the municipal general election in November 2017. She said primary turnout is usually lower than the general. Unaffiliated and independent voters cannot vote in Pennsylvania's closed primaries.

“In 2021, the first municipal election after mail ballots became more widely used, we saw a significant increase in turnout considering the commissioners and county row offices were not even on the ballot that year,” Manzoni said in an email.

She shared general municipal election data for comparison: 7,973 ballots cast in 2017; 8,705 ballots in 2019; and 12,886 in 2021. This May’s primary had 8,543 votes.

In Wayne County, Director of Elections Cindy Furman said an early count of mail-in/absentee requests shows demand is already higher than in 2021, the last municipal election year, when just over 2,000 ballots were submitted by mail, according to county election data.

As of Oct. 6, “we are currently at 3,167 mail-in/absentee ballots requested and issued,” Furman said in an email. “The trend is definitely on the rise as voters find it easier to use a mail-in versus going to the polls.”

Not all mailed ballots will necessarily be returned, officials noted. Final election results will show just how many voters relied on mail-in/absentee ballots.

“Ever since 2020, the vote by mail numbers have been in a bit of decline” in Lycoming County, according to County Director of Elections Forrest Lehman. At the end of last week, the county had sent out around 4,000 mail/absentee ballots. In 2021, about 3,500 were returned.

“If the primary is any guide, I don’t see these numbers going much higher,” Lehman said. “You can never predict voter behavior. Given the right combination of candidates and issues, there can be pockets in the county where turnout is outstanding.”

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.