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​Guide to Running a Voter Registration Drive in Pennsylvania

The PA Department of State is pleased to release the Guide to Running a Voter Registration Drive in Pennsylvania. This guide provides guidelines and best practices to organizations that want to help citizens register to vote in Pennsylvania.

The information was compiled by a workgroup of election stakeholders, including nonprofit voter advocacy groups and county election officials, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of State. It provides information you need when planning and executing an effective voter registration in Pennsylvania.



Download a printable version.

Contact Information

For questions related to the contents of this guide, contact the Department of State or your local county election office.

Pennsylvania Department of State
Bureau of Elections and Notaries
401 North St. Ste. 210 
Harrisburg, PA 17120
(717) 787-5280
1-877-VOTES-PA (1-877-868-3772) 

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The purpose of this guide is to provide general guidelines and best practices to organizations that want to help citizens register to vote in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

This guide is not intended as legal advice. Any person or group undertaking a voting drive should consult with an attorney to ensure their efforts comply with federal and state law.  

Voter registration drives offer an important service to Pennsylvanians by providing a convenient opportunity to register to vote or update voter registration information. By the same token, organizations that hold registration drives also take on an important responsibility for the voters they assist.

In order to be of service to voters, persons and organizations that run voter registration drives should:

  • Do as much as possible to ensure voters complete registration applications completely and accurately.
  • Submit all voter registration applications by the voter registration deadline.
  • Follow best practices for submitting applications.
  • Provide helpful information to voters when they have questions.

This guide was developed by a workgroup of election stakeholders, including nonprofit voter advocacy groups and county election officials, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of State. It provides information you need when planning and executing an effective voter registration drive in Pennsylvania. 

Know the Rules

Know the Rules

As you plan your voter registration drive, and in the course of running the drive, it's important to know the rules about staffing the drive, who is eligible to vote, and the deadlines for submitting applications, among other things. In addition, the workers who staff the drive should be prepared to respond to questions from voters about their voting rights. 

Who processes voter registration applications?

Each county in Pennsylvania is responsible for processing the voter registration applications of the county's residents. Paper applications should be submitted to the appropriate county election offices by the voter registration deadline.  

Organization requirements

In Pennsylvania, there is no requirement for organizations to register with the state in order to conduct a voter registration program. However, it is a good idea to communicate with county election offices about your plans for the registration drive, as well as consult with an attorney. (See "Poll Worker Recruitment" for a list of information to review with county election officials.)

Who can help others register?

You or your organization's staff can help a citizen complete a voter registration form, as long as you and the staff member remain nonpartisan. This means that you must respect the desired affiliation of any person completing a registration form.  If you fill in any portion of the registration application on behalf of a voter, you must sign the application and provide your address.

Know the law

You may want to consult with an attorney to make sure you understand what activities are not permitted by law. For example, there may be certain political activities that are not allowed if your organization is a nonprofit organization. If you run a nonprofit organization, it may be useful to consult IRS guidelines. In addition, under federal law, it is not allowed to provide incentives to voters for registering for federal elections. For example, it would be against the law to give someone a gift for registering to vote in a presidential election.

Consult with an attorney for specific, detailed advice about what activities are not allowed under the law.

When to fill out a registration form

Voters can use the voter registration application to:

  • Register to vote
  • Update the address on their voter record
  • Change the name on their voter record
  • Change their political party



Voter registration deadlines are 30 days before the next election.

  • Registrations sent by mail must be postmarked by the deadline.
  • Online registrations must be completed by midnight on the day of the deadline.
  • Hand-delivered registrations must be received by the county elections office by close of business on the day of the deadline.


In order to register to vote, each person must meet the following three criteria. They must be:

  1. A citizen of the United States.
  2. A resident of Pennsylvania.
  3. At least 18 years old on or before the date of the next election.


Voters must register using their home residence address. The residence must be a Pennsylvania address.

  • For college students, this may be their residence at school, or where they live the rest of the year. But they must choose one and be prepared to vote only in that district on election day.
  • For persons without a permanent residence, they may register at the place where they temporarily reside.
  • You may not register using a Post Office (P.O.) Box as your residence. However, you may include a P.O. Box as your mailing address.
  • Additional information on residence requirements are included in the section 'Voters with special considerations.'

How to submit voter registration applications

How to submit voter registration applications

One of the first steps in planning your voter registration guide is to decide how voters will complete the application form. There are three options for online registration, in addition to the paper application. The Department of State highly recommends the use of online registration tools.

Online Voter Registration

Voters may register through the Department of State website at

  • Registering online reduces errors in data entry.
  • Online applications are submitted immediately, reducing processing time.
  • Registering online saves the cost of postage, or a trip to the registration office.
  • To register voters online, you'll need to have internet access where you are conducting the registration drive, and access to a device such as a phone, tablet, or computer.
  • You'll also need a way to upload photos of applicants' signatures in the event they do not have a PennDOT ID number.

Online Voter Registration Drive (OVR Drive) Tool

Your organization can register with the Department of State to use the OVR Drive tool at Once you submit your organization's information, your organization's registration will be approved within two weeks.

  • In addition to the benefits of registering online listed above, OVR Drive allows you to use an online dashboard to track the number of applications you submit.
  • OVR Drive has been tested for usability and readability, making it easy for applicants to navigate.

Voter Registration Web API

Creating a web application program interface (web API) is an option that requires greater resources from your organizations, but it offers the best options for information tracking. Similar to OVR Drive, you may register through the Department of State to create a web API at Once you submit your registration, a Department of State representative will communicate with you within a week.

  • Web API is a good option if your organization has the capacity and funding to develop a web application.
  • The web application you create can be custom-branded and integrated into your organization's website.
  • You can use web API to gather applicant contact information in order to stay in touch with voters for other purposes. You can also obtain demographic information or collect other information from applicants related to your organization's mission. (If you collect and retain information, you may do so subject to the Department's Terms of Use for web API.)
  • By using web API, you can track the status of submitted applications.  
  • More information is available at:   

Paper Voter Registration Application

Paper applications are often the most cost-effective option, and they are easy to distribute to volunteers. However, given the availability of online voter registration, there are several disadvantages to using paper applications.

  • Paper applications can be misplaced.
  • Poor handwriting and human error in data entry can lead to errors with paper applications.
  • It is harder to ensure that all required fields are completed with a paper application, which can lead to delays in processing the registration.

Paper applications are available for download at

For more information about any of the options listed above, contact the Pennsylvania Department of State at

How to complete an application

How to complete an application

Follow these guidelines for completing voter registration applications. Remember that it is more important to turn in accurate and complete applications than turning in a large number of applications. If the applicant does not fill in the application completely and accurately, it may cause problems or delays, or prevent the person from registering.

If someone is not sure of their registration status, look up their information before you have them complete an application. Voter status can be found at

If you help someone complete the form, you must complete the section of the application saying you assisted the voter.

Tips for Voters

  • It is a good idea to include your phone number, even though it is not required. This will allow the county voter registration office to contact you in case they have any questions about your registration.
  • If you provide an email address, you will receive emails about your application status. 
  • If you have moved, include your previous address.

Tips for Voters - Online Voter Registration Application

  • If you have a Pennsylvania driver's license or PennDOT ID card, provide that number. If you do not have a PennDOT ID, enter the last four (4) digits of your social security number. This is especially important when registering online. The county voter registration office will use the signature on file with PennDOT to complete your voter registration. If you do not provide a PennDOT ID number, you will need to either upload a signature or send in a signature by mail.
  • If you do not have a Pennsylvania driver's license or PennDOT ID card, you may upload a signature. Follow these instructions to upload a signature:
    • Sign your full name on clean, white paper.
    • Use a blue or black pen or marker.
    • Take a photo of the signature.
    • Make sure the picture is high contrast (dark letters on a white background).
    • Do not upload a picture of an ID card or any other images.

      Images must:
    • Be in JPG, BMP, PNG, or TIFF file format.
    • Have a resolution of 96dpi or greater.
    • Be at least 180 x 60 pixels.
  • If you do not have a Pennsylvania driver's license or PennDOT ID card and you do not upload a signature,
    • Select "continue" to print and mail the signature request form.
    • Print the signature request form, complete it, and mail it to your county.
    • If you do not submit a signature, your county's election office will send you a signature request form.
  • Please note that the registration process cannot be completed until the county receives your signature.

Tips for Voters –Paper Voter Registration Application

  • Take your time and write clearly, using a pen. If the county voter registration office cannot read your handwriting, it will cause errors or delays in your registration.
  • If you a have a Pennsylvania driver's license or PennDOT ID card, provide that number. If you do not have a PennDOT ID number, provide the last four (4) digits of your social security number.
  • Be sure to sign your full name and date the form!


Poll worker recruitment

Poll worker recruitment

When a voter completes the voter registration application, they have the option to indicate that they are interested in being a poll worker. This is question 13 on the application. If a voter says they want to learn more about the job, encourage them to check the box.

Why become a poll worker?

We all depend on poll workers to run smooth elections, but it is increasingly hard for counties to find enough people to work on election day. They also need people from all backgrounds. For example, many counties need poll workers who are fluent in more than one language. It also helps to have workers who are comfortable learning how to set up electronic voting machines and use electronic poll books. Serving as a poll worker is a great way to be involved in the community, earn some extra money, and support the democratic process.

What does the job entail?

Poll workers generally work for the entire day on election day, from before the time the polls open at 7:00 am, until after the polls close at 8:00 pm.

Each poll worker's responsibilities depend on the position assigned. Duties may include:

  • Checking in voters, answering voters' questions, setting up and testing voting machines, issuing ballots and other tasks.
  • Helping fellow voters who encounter problems, from registration issues to voter ID questions to language barriers.
  • Attending training to learn the job duties ahead of the election.

What happens when you check the box?

If a voter checks the box saying they are interested in being a poll worker, they may be contacted by their county's election office. It's important that voters who are interested in being a poll worker include a phone number and/or email address on their application so the county can contact them. Voters should also feel free to call the county election office to inquire about the position. Even if the county does not need poll workers for the upcoming election, they might contact the voter for help with future elections. 

Before the Voter Registration Drive

Before the Voter Registration Drive

Voter registration drives can be rewarding, but they are also a lot of work. Prior planning can help make your program successful. Once you understand the rules and decide how you will submit applications, you are ready to plan your drive in greater detail.

Pick the dates

When you are picking dates for your voter registration drive, consider voter registration deadlines, national campaigns like National Voter Registration Day, and special events in the area. You should also account for training and follow-up so that staff or volunteers are prepared to go into the field, and there is not a rush to collect and submit a large number of applications just before the deadline. Plan to collect and submit applications to the county election offices ahead of the deadline.

Secure your supplies

  • Computers, tablets or mobile devices
  • Voter registration applications
  • Absentee ballot applications
  • Voter educational materials
  • Staff or volunteer identification
  • Information about your organization
  • Clipboards
  • Pens

Communicate with county election officials

It is a good idea to reach out to the county election director in each county where you will submit applications. This is especially important for large registration drives. County contact information may be found at If you have trouble reaching a county election official, contact the Department of State at (717) 787-5280 or

 Review the following information with a county election official:

  • The size and scope of the drive.
  • Contact information for your organization.
  • Identify the contact person at the county.
  • The process for flagging problems with applications collected by your drive.
  • When and how often you plan to drop off paper applications.
  • Are there other items to be submitted with the applications, such as a cover letter?

Find and train workers

You may staff your registration drive with paid workers or volunteers. In either case, it is vital that the workers understand the importance of their role and agree to follow your organization's policies and procedures. 


Have a written process for recruiting, hiring, and dismissing full-time and part-time staff and volunteers that complies with federal and state laws.


Create rules for your staff and volunteers that comply with state and federal laws. Provide training to all staff and volunteers that cover your organization's policies and procedures. Consider including the topics included in this guide.

If possible, utilize a variety of training techniques. Presentation, or lecture-style training should be supplemented with written materials. For example, you may want to display signs in workspaces stating your organization's policy on fraud and nonpartisanship. Hands-on training can also be very useful. Consider having workers act out scenarios they will encounter in the field.


You may want to track workers' effectiveness in the field. Here are some suggestions for monitoring workers and ensuring accountability:

  • Track the number of applications given to registration workers and returned by them after each shift or event. (This can also help ensure that all applications are turned in to the counties.)
  • Record the total number of applications collected per shift or event, including the number that were complete, incomplete, or spoiled, and note any issues with applications.
  • Enforce quality standards that require registration workers to only collect complete applications from eligible applicants.
  • Periodically observe your workers in the field and provide feedback to them or their team leaders.

During the Drive

During the Drive


Voter registration workers should clearly identify your organization and provide contact information in case applicants have follow-up questions. If your organization plans to keep voter information and/or use the information for any purpose other than registering the person to vote, be sure to explain to voters what you will do with their information.

Tracking applications

There are several ways a voter will know that their application was approved.

  • If they have submitted an application online, voters can check their application status at
  • Typically, county voter registration offices will send a voter registration card within 14 days once they receive the application.
  • If the voter completes a paper application, and does not receive a voter registration card, they may contact the county to confirm that the county received their application. County contact information is available at
  • If the voter applied online and provided an email address, they will receive an email once their application is approved.

Your organization may also be interested in tracking applications that you submit. There are at least three ways to track submitted applications.

  • The most efficient way to track applications is to utilize a web API, which provides status information for individual applicants (see "How to submit voter registration applications" for details on APIs).
  • The OVR Drive tool will provide general information about the number of submitted and approved applications, but it does not allow you to track individual applications.
  • Another way to track applications is to record the information from the applications before submitting them. If you plan to store or use voters' information, you should tell voters how their information will be used.

Handling paper applications

  • Plan to submit applications to county election offices in batches on specific dates during the drive.
    • Waiting and submitting a large number of applications close to the voter registration deadline may not give the county enough time to correct errors or collect missing information on applications.
    • Discuss your plans for submitting applications with county election officials.
  • Put controls in place to guarantee that all completed paper applications collected are submitted to the county election offices. For example, compare the number of applications collected by volunteers to the number of applications submitted to counties.
  • Paper applications must have original signatures in order to be processed. You may not submit photocopies, scans, or facsimiles of applications.
  • If you collect more than one application from someone, you should submit the application with the more recent date. If you suspect you have two applications from the same person, but you are not sure, submit both applications to the county election office, but make them aware that there may be a duplicate. 

Troubleshooting issues in the field

Make sure your registration drive workers know what to do when they find that voters have not completely filled out an application. 

  • If an application is incomplete, you may fill in the missing information ONLY with the applicant's permission, and you must complete the section of the form that says you provided assistance with the form. You may not fill in any information on the voter registration application without permission from the voter.
  • If you cannot obtain the applicant's permission to complete the form, do not complete it. For paper forms, submit the incomplete form to the county election office.
  • Online applications can only be submitted when all the required information is complete, so you will not be able to submit incomplete online applications.
  • The best approaches are to spot-check each paper application while the voter is present, and make sure that the voter clicks through to the confirmation page of the online application.

Quality control

In order for your voter registration drive to be successful, you should make every effort to ensure that you are collecting and submitting accurate and complete information from voters. This is referred to as "quality control." Consider the following tips for establishing a quality control system for your drive.

  • Create a standard protocol for identifying, documenting, and addressing quality issues, such as illegible or missing information on applications. The protocol may include:
    • A visual review of all applications collected.
    • A system for identifying which staff or volunteer collected each application.
    • A regular report regarding the findings of the quality control efforts.
    • Steps to take to address issues related to quality.
  • Other quality control tips include:
    • Regularly review quality control reports to look for recurring problems and patterns.
    • Maintain a separate and secure space for quality control staff and programs.
    • Maintain a separate and secure space for applications you collect.
    • Have a system for reporting quality issues to election officials.
    • Make efforts to prevent duplicate applications. 

After the Drive

After the Drive

The most important thing you can do after a voter registration drive is review and evaluate the success of your drive. There are many reasons to collect and evaluate data related to your drive. For example:

  • To learn how to improve the number of people registered in the future.
  • To improve the quality of applications collected in the future.
  • To apply for grant funding for future drives.
  • To improve staff knowledge and the effectiveness of training.

Sources of data may include:

  • Feedback from the county election offices where you submitted applications.
  • The number of voters who checked their voter registration status.
  • The number of applications collected at each drive location and on each date.
  • The percentage of applications approved.
  • Volunteer/ staff survey.
  • Quality control data.


Voters with special considerations

Voters with special considerations

When you are registering voters in the field, you will encounter voters with a wide variety of backgrounds, abilities, and needs. The following sections will help prepare you to assist a diverse range of voters.

Voters with disabilities

Any voter with a disability, including those who live in assisted living facilities, may register and vote. Voters with disabilities experience many obstacles to voting, including difficulties in registering. Your organization can help voters with disabilities by being mindful of the diverse needs of people with disabilities.  

Things to consider before your voter registration drive: 

  • Is your voter registration location wheelchair or mobility device accessible? 
  • Do you have Wi-Fi access or a hotspot to help voters with visual disabilities use the online voter registration system? 
  • Do you have absentee ballot applications available for those who are eligible and wish to apply? If not, do you have instructions available for the voter to take with them? 

    Other things to consider: 
  • Use "people-first" language. For example, "people with disabilities", not "disabled people".  
  • Don't assume that people with disabilities need help. Ask first, and then let them tell you what assistance they need.  
  • If a voter has an aide or a sign-language interpreter, speak directly to the voter, not the aide or interpreter.  
  • If you are working with a voter who is blind, make sure you introduce yourself by name. 
  • Speak to people at eye level. If they use a wheelchair, sit or kneel if you can. 
  • When assisting a voter who is deaf, speak clearly in a normal tone. (Don't shout.) Look directly at them when you're talking to them. 

Voters who have a criminal record

There is a very limited group of people who may not register and vote in Pennsylvania due to a criminal conviction.

The ONLY people who are NOT eligible to register and vote are:

  • People who are currently confined in a penal institution for conviction of a felony and will not get released until after the next election.
  • People who are in a halfway house or other alternative correctional facility on pre-release status for conviction of a felony and who will not get released until after the next election.
  • People who were convicted of violating any provision of the Pennsylvania Election Code within the last four years.

Those who are incarcerated but eligible to register may use their most recent address as their residence; or they can use the address where they will live upon release. The correctional facility may be used as a mailing address, and they can apply to receive an absentee ballot there.

More information is available at,-Misdemeanant-or-Pretrial-Detainee.aspx.


Voters who are limited English proficient

You may encounter people with limited English proficiency when you are running your drive. This means they speak another language and have difficulty speaking and/or understanding English. Before your drive, do some research about the languages spoken where you will be holding the drive, and plan accordingly.

  • It is a good idea to recruit registration drive workers who are multilingual and can help voters in another language.
  • Pennsylvania's online voter registration application is available on the website in English and Spanish.  Click on the button for "español" to see the application in Spanish.
  • The paper voter registration application is available in multiple languages. Applications in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese are available at:
  • You can refer people to the Pennsylvania Department of State for help answering questions in another language. The Department will use an interpreter to communicate with the voter at no cost.


High school students

For high school students, and teenagers in general, the biggest obstacle is making sure that they understand their eligibility to vote.

  • Keep in mind that they do not have to be 18 to register. They must be 18 years old on or before the date of the next election.
  • This means that special elections will affect the registration cut-off date. Check with the county election office to confirm whether there are upcoming special elections.

If you plan to hold a drive at a high school, here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • You may want to include pledge cards for students who are not eligible to register, so that they can make a commitment to register in the future.
  • Research has shown it is most meaningful when a peer asks another young person to register to vote. Consider engaging with student volunteers.
  • In addition to hosting a table event, it is effective to register students to vote in a classroom setting.
  • Remind students to bring the materials they need, like their driver's license or social security number.
  • Make sure to explain each section of the registration form to the students, because it may contain terms they are not familiar with.
  • Explain how selecting a party will affect their ability to vote in primary elections.

High school students as young as 17 are eligible under state law to serve as poll workers. Talk to the county election administrators where you are holding your drive about whether they use student poll workers. If so, you could add a poll worker recruitment component to your voter registration drive.

Lastly, the Pennsylvania Departments of State and Education recognize high schools with the Governor’s Civic Engagement Award if they register at least 65% of eligible students to vote. To find out more about the award, go to


College students

There are many common errors that occur when registering college students to vote. It is vital that drive workers understand the options available to college students, and that they explain the consequences of the students' decision to register to vote in Pennsylvania.

First, college students at residential campuses generally have two options when they register to vote:

  1. College students may register and vote where they live while attending college in Pennsylvania. They can use an on-campus or off-campus address in that community.
  2. They may choose to register and vote at their prior home address (or remain registered and vote at their prior home address). Most commonly, this would be their parents' address.

Be sure to submit the application to the appropriate county office. For example, if someone attends Penn State University, and lists their residence in Berks County, the application must be sent to Berks County, not Centre County.

In addition, registration drive volunteers should be prepared to explain the following information:

  • Voters cannot be registered in more than one place in Pennsylvania. If a student was previously registered in another county in Pennsylvania, that registration will be cancelled when they register in a different county.
  • Likewise, students may only vote in one place. Explain that students from out of state who decide to register in Pennsylvania are legally prohibited from also voting in their home state.
  • Students must vote where they register. For example, if a student attends school in Centre County, but lists their residence in Berks County on the application, they may only vote in Berks County on election day. In that case, let them know about the process for requesting an absentee ballot.

Frequently Asked Questions from Voters

Frequently Asked Questions from Voters

How will I know that I successfully registered to vote?

After the county election office processes the voter registration application, they send the voter a registration card in the mail. The card is a confirmation that the voter registration application has been processed and approved.

If the voter does not receive a registration card, there are other ways to check on the status of their application:

  • Voters can check their registration status online by visiting, and clicking on Check Your Registration Status.
  • Voters who register to vote online can use their application number to track their voter registration application at
  • Voters can call their county's voter registration office to ask about the status of their application. County contact information is at

Where do I vote?

When you look up your voter registration status online, it will list your polling place. You can look up your voter registration status at  

What does it mean if my voter registration status is "inactive"?

Your voter registration may be "inactive" if you have not voted in a recent election. You can still vote if you are listed as inactive. When you go to your polling place on election day, you will be asked to sign an affirmation. Once you vote, your status will be changed back to active status.

Do I have to register with a political party?

You do not have to register with a political party, but you must register as a Democrat or Republican in order to vote in primary elections in Pennsylvania, unless there is a ballot question on the ballot. If you do not register as a Democrat or Republican, you will only be allowed to vote in special elections and general elections, and you can vote on ballot questions in a primary election. 

Do I need to show identification when I vote?

You must present identification if you are voting in your election district for the first time. Acceptable ID includes both photo and non-photo ID. Non-photo ID must have your address on it. Some examples of acceptable ID are listed below:

  • Pennsylvania driver's license or PennDOT ID card.
  • U.S. passport.
  • U.S. Armed Forces ID.
  • Student ID.
  • Confirmation issued by the County Voter Registration Office.
  • Firearm permit.
  • Current utility bill.
  • Current paycheck.

More information on identification and requirements is available at

What if I can't go to my polling place on election day?

If you are not able to vote in person on election day, you may be able to vote absentee, which means the county will mail you a ballot. Once you are registered to vote, you can apply for an absentee ballot. Keep in mind that there are deadlines for absentee ballot applications. To learn more about voting absentee, including information about eligibility and deadlines, visit

You can apply for an absentee ballot using a paper absentee ballot application, which is available at Or, if you have a valid Pennsylvania driver's license or photo ID card from the PA Department of Transportation (PennDOT), you can apply online at

Military and overseas voters should refer to this page for information on how to vote absentee:

What is a provisional ballot?

Provisional ballots are paper ballots that you use on election day when the poll workers cannot confirm that you are eligible to vote. You complete the ballot and turn it in at the polling place. Then the county will decide whether to count your vote.

You may be asked to vote using a provisional ballot if there is a problem on election day. For example, if you go to vote and you are not included in the list of voters in the pollbook, or if you are voting for the first time at a particular polling place and you did not bring identification. You should only use a provisional ballot if there is no other way for you to vote.

For more information on provisional ballots, visit

What if I need help voting?

You can have someone help you vote, as long as that person is not your employer, your union representative, or the Judge of Elections. (The Judge of Elections is the head poll worker in charge at the polling place.)

When you sign in at the polling place, tell the poll worker that you need assistance voting. You will be asked to sign a "Declaration of Need of Assistance."

Other questions?

There is a lot of useful information for voters at If you receive a question that you cannot answer, you can refer voters to that website, to the PA Department of State, or to their county's election office.

Pennsylvania Department of State
(717) 787-5280

County contact information is available at