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State unveils new portal to apply for mail-in ballots earlier

Pennsylvania unveiled a new streamlined, online way to apply for a mail-in ballot Tuesday for the Nov. 5 election.

For the presidential election in 2020, the state made applications for mail-in ballots for the fall election available Aug 12, Department of State Press Secretary Matt Heckel said.

This year, the Department of State, which oversees elections, decided why wait. The mail-in application is out in a new online portal.

“The new portal is a lot more user friendly in terms of applying,” Secretary of State Al Schmidt said. “And we did it eight weeks earlier than last year.”

The former portal asked voters questions related to absentee ballots. Absentee mail-in balloting requires being out of town or physically unable to vote in person.

Mail-in ballots don’t require either excuse so those questions are gone, though Schmidt says voters can still vote absentee if they want. He said going ahead now has another advantage.

“It also makes it so that students who are in school right now, before leaving for the summer, and will be back in the fall can apply before leaving school,” he said.

You can still apply to vote in your hometown if that’s where you’re registered.

Lackawanna County Elections Director Beth Hopkins said allowing earlier mail-in applications may mean voters get ballots earlier. A lot will still depend on when the ballots are finalized.

“I mean once we start processing the application, you know, it has to be verified that the voter is a registered voter in the county, and the application has to be linked to their voter record and then you print out labels that get adhered to the envelopes that the ballots get sent out in,” she said. “So perhaps cut back on some overtime, and things like that for every office since we're able to start this a bit sooner."

Borys joins WVIA News from The Scranton Times-Tribune, where he served as an investigative reporter and covered a wide range of political stories. His work has been recognized with numerous national and state journalism awards from the Inland Press Association, Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association.

You can email Borys at boryskrawczeniuk@wvia.org