Avoiding naked ballots: How to make sure your vote is counted in Pennsylvania

Your Local Election HQ

TOWANDA, Pa. (WETM) – For years it was up to each county in Pennsylvania to decide whether to count a “naked ballot,” but that’s changed in what’ll be one of the biggest elections in recent memory.

A mail-in ballot is considered “naked” when it’s not placed in the provided “Official Election Ballot” envelope mailed out to voters who request one. If the ballot is not in that envelope, your vote will not be counted this year.

“We have always taken it as voter intent and we counted the ballots then,” said Renee Smithkors, the Director of Elections in Bradford County.

This year if those ballots are not in the envelope, the Board of Elections will separate them from official ballots and place them in a secure room. Those ballots will not be opened, but they will be accessible should a court order counties to count them.

How to mail an absentee ballot

In this election, the county is expecting a large turnout both with in-person and mail-in voting.

“We have issued over 7,000 mail-in ballots,” said Smithkors. “Prior to the mail today, we’ve received about 1,200 back”

In a typical general election, the county is used to handling about 1,500 ballots at most.

“I’m pretty sure COVID has a lot to do with it.”

When it comes to COVID-19, the county is prepared to make sure polling places are clean and safe. They’ve received masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and paper towels from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and they have plexiglass shields as well.

If you plan to vote using an absentee or mail-in ballot in the 2020 general election, your completed application must be received in the county office by 5:00 PM on Oct. 27, 2020. The deadline to return your voted absentee or mail-in ballot is 8:00 PM on Nov. 3, 2020. If your ballot is postmarked by 8:00 PM on Election Day and received in your county office by 5:00 PM on Nov. 6, 2020, it will be considered timely.


  • If you’re a voter with a valid PA Driver’s License or PennDOT ID number, you must use it to apply with this online form.
  • If you do not have one of these ID numbers, you will need to provide your last four digits of your Social Security number and upload your signature or download a paper application and mail it to your County Board of Elections. Otherwise, you may visit your local county elections office.

If you’re unable to submit an application online or don’t have a printer to download an application form, you may submit an online request to have a form mailed to you.

Notice for Military and Overseas Voters: When applying for an absentee ballot, use the federal form.

NOTE: You must apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot for each election unless you qualify for and request permanent status to vote by mail-in ballot.

For more information on voting in Pennsylvania, visit our Bradford and Tioga County Voter Guides.

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