With the election just days away, Santa Barbara County elections officials have already received 118,803 ballots; that’s out of a total of 236,000 registered voters countywide. Four years ago this time, county elections officials had received 68,000 mail-in ballots. Of the ballots turned in this year — either by mail or by drop-off box — 63,438 came from registered Democrats, 28,223 from registered Republicans, 21,450 from voters with no party preference, and 5,692 from third-party voters.
While this year’s total so far is nearly twice as large as it was four years ago, the circumstances could not be more different. Four years ago, there was no COVID-19 pandemic, and the same urgency many voters felt for mail-in ballots did not exist. Nor did the county elections office feel compelled to open 30 drop-off boxes throughout the county — Texas by contrast allowed only one drop-off box per county — to accommodate those voters who did not wish to vote in traditional polling places but did not trust the U.S. Postal Service to get their ballots collected in time to be counted. Nor, it’s almost too obvious to mention, was Donald J. Trump running for reelection.
“This is good stuff,” exclaimed County Elections czar Joe Holland. “I don’t have a dog in this hunt politically. I just want people to vote. And they’re voting!”
Of the ballots turned in this far, Holland said 500 lacked any signature on the mail-in-ballot envelope. That signature is required for the ballot to be counted. Another 200 had signatures, but those signatures appeared not to match the signature on the person’s registration application, driver’s license, or any number of about a dozen comparative signatures County Elections officials have access to.
Holland said that paid poll workers who have been trained in signature verification are assigned to this task. They are engaged only after scanning machines have indicated there might be a discrepancy among a registered voter’s signatures.
Of those 700 ballots, Holland stressed, letters went out to all of the registered voters who sent them in.
Those who failed to sign the envelopes are being asked to rectify the omission; those with questionable signatures are being asked to explain the discrepancies.
Holland said his office bought new ballot scanning machines for the March primary, but that these machines have since been upgraded to handle what will clearly be a crushing volume. The new machines, he said, are capable of reading 140 ballots a minute. Of the more than 118,000 ballots turned in, 90 percent, Holland said, have been cleared to be counted — their signatures verified and the ballots removed from their envelopes — come election night, starting right after 8 p.m. He said all the cleared ballots are being kept in a secure room accessible only to three individuals.
Beginning this Saturday, October 31, Holland’s office will open the doors to 35 polling places countywide for voters who prefer to cast their ballots the old-fashioned way. Unlike previous years, those polling places will be open for four days. Masks are required.
Holland noted that electioneering is strictly prohibited within 100 feet of polling places. Translated, people wearing clothes bearing the names of their preferred candidates will be turned away until the objectionable article of clothing has been removed or covered up. By contrast, Holland added, people displaying other signifiers — such as a Black Lives Matter T-shirt or a red Make America Great Again hat — would be allowed to vote.
While it’s been smooth sailing thus far, some campaign consultants are girding themselves for a potential nightmare at Isla Vista’s polling places beginning this weekend. Many Isla Vista residents are reportedly registered to vote in their hometown, not Santa Barbara. When they show up and find this out, they will be allowed to reregister on the spot. To the extent such pessimistic predictions prove true, this will lead to delays in the final tabulation of election results.
County elections officials will be counting votes cast in this election until November 20, so long as the votes were cast and postmarked Election Day.
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