Online voting alternative to mailing ballots

The municipal election that took place Tuesday, Nov. 5,  served as the first election Pennsylvania voters could apply for an absentee ballot online for. 

Other states have utilized this online platform since 2012, but this is the first time it has been available to Pennsylvania voters. The online absentee ballot application went live Sept. 16, which was the first day to apply.

Numerous Greene County residents utilized the online application for this past Tuesday’s election.

“We’ve received 126 online applications,” Greene County Elections Director Tina Kiger said.

Rachel Gillispie, Greene County Elections administrative assistant, is in charge of processing and mailing the ballots. Since the application went live, she has noticed more voters using the online application than the written.

“It’s more convenient for those who cannot get out and it’s more convenient for our office that we get it immediately,” Kiger said. 

Aside from conveniency, the online application is also more, “user friendly.” 

“It’s super nice because they can’t miss any fields when they’re filling out an application,” Gillispie said. “A lot of times with the paper application, they forget to put in fields of information. So, I would have to mail their application back out to them.” 

The online application also cuts down turn-around time. When a resident mails their application, it takes a week for them to receive their ballot. With the online application however, Gillispie explained she is able to mail their ballot to them the same day their application is submitted.

“The time frame with the way the mail goes, it makes it easier if they do it online to get everything out and back in time,” Kiger said. “The application is updated every 15 minutes, so the administrative assistant, Rachel, gets them every 15 minutes, so she can get them out immediately instead of waiting for the mail.”

Aside from making the application accessible online, the absentee application process has not changed.

Voters were previously required to fill out a written absentee ballot application and either hand-deliver it or mail it to their county election office. Now, registered voters are able to fill out and submit their absentee ballot application online. From there, it will be directly sent to their county’s election office, and they will receive their absentee ballot in the mail.

Registered voters can apply for an absentee ballot if they are unable to make it to the polls the day of the election. Health issues, vacations, jobs and college students are the four main reasons people use absentee ballots, Kiger said.

As of now, absentee ballots are not as popular as going to the polls to vote, Kiger said. With the new online absentee application and other reforms though, this might change.

As of Thursday, Oct. 31, Pennsylvania voters can cast a ballot by mail without providing a reason for why they need an absentee ballot. This was just one of the many, “voter-friendly” reforms as a result of Gov. Tom Wolf’s Act 77 of 2019. 

“I honestly think more people will try to get more absentee ballots, because they’re too busy to vote,” Gillispie said, “[but] I’m hoping that people still go to the polls and vote, because it’s very important.”