Election FAQ: Returning mail-in ballots & voting in Pittsburgh

From registering to vote to naked ballots, we’ve got answers to all of your voting questions

by Matt Petras
November 2, 2020

UPDATE Nov 2: Election Day Questions

I have a mail-in ballot but I have not returned it yet, what should I do? 

VotesPA (the official website for voting in Pennsylvania) is urging voters to return their ballots by hand-delivering them to the Allegheny County Department of Elections. Mail-in ballots must be received by 8 pm on election day to be counted.

It is too close to election day to ensure that the post-office will get your ballots At this point, voters should not use the mail to return mail-in ballots.

Make sure you follow all of the instructions for filling out your ballot and returning your mail-in ballot in both envelopes. Scroll down for more info.

Where do I dropoff my mail-in ballot in Pittsburgh?  

In Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, mail-in ballots can be delivered to the Allegheny County Department of Elections, located in the Allegheny County Office Building in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Allegheny County Department of Elections 
542 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

There is a ballot drop-off set up in the lobby of the building. There are parking spots outside of the building on Forbes Ave. for ballot drop off. There are also parking spots available on Ross Street.

When can I drop off my mail-in ballot? 

The Allegheny County Department of Elections has extended hours for ballot drop-off:

  • Mon., Nov. 2, 8:00 am-8:00 pm
  • Tue., Nov. 3, 7:00 am-8:00 pm

IMPORTANT: You can not vote by taking your mail-in ballot to your poll.

From the Allegheny County Department of Elections website:

Pittsburgh Mail-In ballot return

What if I can’t drop-off my ballot? What if I requested a mail-in ballot but I want to vote in person. 

If you cannot drop off your mail-in ballot, you can bring your ballot to your polling location on election day.

From the Allegheny County Department of Elections website:

Are you planning to vote in person? 

You can find your polling place by clicking here.

If you’ve voted at your current polling place before, you don’t need to show any identification. If it’s your first time voting at your current polling place, you will need to show some type of identification such as a driver’s license, passport or student ID. The identification you show does not need to have a photo.


In an already chaotic, confusing and stressful year, a big, unprecedented election looms. In the sea of restrictions necessitated by the pandemic, many people have been left with lots of questions about early voting and what Election Day is going to look like. This frequently asked questions guide is to help anyone who’s a little confused. And let’s face it: We’re all a little confused right now.

I know there’s a presidential election, but what other elections are there? 

The most publicized election on Nov. 3 is the presidential election primarily with Democrat Joe Biden, running with Vice President pick Kamala Harris against incumbent Republican Donald Trump, running with Vice President Mike Pence.

There are other elections, though! Look out for elections for positions like Auditor General, State Treasurer, Attorney General as well as State Senator and Representative. You can view a sample ballot for your exact district by clicking here.

Is it too late to register to vote? 

It depends on when you’re reading this! The deadline for registering to vote or updating your registration details (such as your address) is Oct. 19. You can do this by mail or through some locations, like a driver’s license center, but the easiest way is online at this link.

What if I want to vote by mail? 

Since the primary election a few months ago, voting by mail is now an option for all eligible voters. However, you still need to request a ballot. All request forms for mail-in ballots must be received by your county election board by Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. You can request a mail ballot by mail, but it’s faster and easier to do online at this link.

What is an absentee ballot?

Even though everyone is now eligible for a mail-ballot in Pennsylvania anyway, there is still a distinction between regular mail-in ballots and absentee ballots. If you’re not going to be in town on Election Day or have a disability or illness that prevents you from physically getting out to vote, you must choose an absentee ballot. It’s more or less the same experience, but it’s a different box to check.

I have my ballot. How do I fill it out? 

There are a few steps to filling out your mail ballot, and it’s exactly the same as during the primary election. You have to choose your candidates on the ballot itself, put the ballot in the included secrecy envelope, and THEN put THAT envelope inside the outer return envelope. You MUST fill out the outer envelope. If you do not fill out the outer envelope, your vote will not be counted.

What is a “naked ballot?”

These are ballots that aren’t placed in the secrecy envelope! Even if you filled out your ballot correctly, if it’s not placed in the secrecy envelope, it will not be counted. It has a sort-of funny name. . Some local candidates decided to have fun with it… 

It’s filled out! What do I do with it? 

Once you have your ballot, you have a few options for how to use it to vote. You can mail it, obviously! You can also personally deliver it to the Allegheny County elections office located at 542 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, 15219 all the way up until election night. Every Monday through Friday it will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, and on Election Day, it will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

You can also drop it off at a satellite voting site!

What is a satellite voting site? Can I vote early? 

Yes! For a few weekends in October, you can visit locations around Allegheny County to either drop off your mail-in-ballot or apply in person for a mail-ballot. If you apply in-person, you can have it processed, fill it out and vote that day.

For every weekend through Oct. 25, there are five locations available per day. On Saturdays, the locations are always open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays it’s 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Locations include CCAC South, CCAC Allegheny, CCAC Homewood, the South Park Ice Rink and the Shop ‘n Save in the Hill District.

To see all of the locations, times, dates and address, click here.

Can I still vote in-person? 

Yup! You can find your polling place by clicking here.

If you’ve voted at your current polling place before, you don’t need to show any identification. If it’s your first time voting at your current polling place, you will need to show some type of identification such as a driver’s license, passport or student ID. The identification you show does not need to have a photo.

Can I be a poll worker for Allegheny County? 

Allegheny County has received an “overwhelming” number of volunteers for the election already, according to its website. It’s still possible to apply, but it’s unlikely you’ll be needed this time around.

Are there other groups I can help or check out? 

There are still lots of nonpartisan organizations that may want some help on Election Day or leading up to Election Day. Other groups will be hosting events that you can support. Here are a few groups you can check out:

Pittsburgh Ballots for Patients: This group seeks to ensure voters who are hospitalized or in a nursing facility can still vote.

The Election Protection Coalition: This national group enlists volunteers to fight restrictions that prevent people from voting.

League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh: This group focuses on educating voters on both the mechanics of how to vote as well as the policies at play in elections. They have lots of resources available like informational graphics and videos.

Matt Petras is a professional writing and journalism tutor for Point Park University as well as a Pittsburgh-area-based freelance reporter. His work has appeared in the Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh Current, PublicSource and the Mon Valley Independent. When he isn’t obsessively checking his email, he’s probably playing video games or reading comic books.

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