Legal Hotline: Election Code – Access to Ballots and Returns

Legal Hotline: Election Code – Access to Ballots and Returns

PNA Legal Hotline

Q: Can we see ballots and returns now that Election Day is over?

A: Yes, the Pennsylvania Election Code makes ballots and returns public records.


Ballots and Absentee Ballot Records

The Pennsylvania Election Code, 25 P.S. § 2968, provides public access to ballots.  Section 2968 (a)  states:

(a) The county board of elections shall have on file in its office after the Thursday before each primary and election, open to public inspection, forms of the ballots and ballot labels.  The forms of the ballots and ballot labels shall be published on the county board’s publicly accessible Internet website”

Absentee ballots are governed by a specific provision of the Pennsylvania Election Code.  25 P.S. § 3146.9 states:

(a) All official absentee ballots, files, applications for such ballots and envelopes on which the executed declarations appear, and all information and lists are hereby designated and declared to be public records and shall be safely kept for a period of two years, except that no proof of identification shall be made public, nor shall information concerning a military elector be made public which is expressly forbidden by the Department of Defense because of military security.

(b) For each election, the county board shall maintain a record of the following information, if applicable, for each elector who makes application for an absentee ballot:

(1) The elector’s name and voter registration address.

(2) The date on which the elector’s application is received by the county board.

(3) The date on which the elector’s application is approved or rejected by the county board.

(4) The date on which the county board mails or delivers the absentee ballot to the elector.

(5) The date on which the elector’s completed absentee ballot is received by the county board.

(c) The county board shall compile the records listed under subsection (b) and make the records publicly available upon request within forty-eight hours of the request.

Note: the contents of ballot boxes and voting machines and records of assisted voters are not public records. 25 P.S. § 2648.



In counties that use electronic voting systems, public access to returns is governed by a specific section of the Pennsylvania Election Code.  25 P.S. § 3031.14(c) states:

“The return printed by the central automatic tabulating equipment, to which have been added write-in votes as recorded on the district reporting form and absentee votes, shall, when certified by the county board of election, constitute the official return of each election district. Upon completion of the count, the official returns shall be open to the public.”

The Election Code also contains a general provision regarding public access to returns.  25 P.S. § 3152 (a) states:

“The general returns from the various districts which have been returned unsealed shall be open to public inspection at the office of the county board as soon as they are received from the judges of election. None of the envelopes sealed by election officers and entrusted to the judge of elections for delivery to the county board shall be opened by any person, except by the order of the return board, or of the court of common pleas.”

Pennsylvania law provides broad public access to election-related records, including ballots, absentee ballots and returns. Journalists seeking access to these records should contact the county board of elections for access to county-level records and the Pennsylvania Department of State for access to state-level election records.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Please contact the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association’s Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions or concerns.