Friday, October 3, 2008

SB majority will vote by mail

BY COLBY FRAZIER
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

Come election day, it’s possible the majority of the electorate in Santa Barbara county will have already cast a ballot by mail.
This Monday, the Santa Barbara County Elections Office will mail nearly 100,000 vote-by-mail ballots, a number that accounts for roughly 52.33 percent of the county’s registered voters.

County Clerk, Recorder and Assessor Joseph Holland said he anticipates 60,000 to 70,000 of these ballots to be returned before the election, with the remainder deposited by voters at polling places on Nov. 4.
“Election day is no longer one day, it’s 29 days,” Holland said.
Of 50 counties reporting yesterday, Santa Barbara County ranked 17th in percentage of registered voters who are expected to vote-by-mail during the Nov. 4 general election.
Sierra and Alpine Counties have the highest rate at 100 percent, while 13.52 percent of the more than 4 million voters in Los Angeles County vote by mail, the lowest percentage in the state.
Holland said he believes the interest in voting by mail in this county is linked to his endorsements of the practice over the years, but said he still prefers to hit the polls.
“I really enjoy going and voting on election day,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned I always want to see polling places. I like the option of providing choices.”
A large part of Holland’s belief that both forms of voting are important stems from the popularity of voting by mail, which he said has appeared, over the past 14 elections, to increase voter participation.
And for Holland, the more people who vote, the better.
“Historically people who vote through the mail vote at a 74 percent turnout rate,” he said. “People who vote at polls turn out an average of 52 percent.”
The hard evidence of this statistic will begin piling up in the middle of next week; a day or two after the vote-by-mail ballots — several pallets worth — are distributed.
Holland said the popularity of vote-by-mail can be attributed to a number of things, including a 1978 change to the “no excuse” law in California, which stated anyone who voted on an absentee ballot had to have an excuse.
Since then, absentee ballots (not called absentee anymore because of a January, 2008 law change that removed the word) have steadily grown in popularity.
Because the labor attributed to vote-by-mail ballots is on par with that of polling places, Holland said providing a vote-by-mail option, followed with polling, is slightly more expensive because it’s essentially like putting on two elections.
County elections officials begin verifying signatures on the vote-by-mail ballots as they receive them.
The ballots aren’t counted, however, until 10 days before the election, when they’re run through a machine that opens 5,000 envelopes an hour. Then the ballots are tabulated in another machine, and that information is piped into a computer inside a locked room guarded by cameras. Holland said none of the vote-by-mail results inside this computer can be looked at by anyone until election day.
Most of this process takes place in space rented by the county in the Chicago Title building located across the street from the County Courthouse at 1101 Anacapa St.
Aside from preparing to mail the ballots, Holland said his staff has been working swing shifts to process the thousands of voter registration forms that file predictably into the building prior to each election.
So far, it’s been busy. On Sept. 30, he said the county elections office received 2,252 voter registrations. On Wednesday, 500 forms were filed, 2,200 were processed on Tuesday, and another 500 came in on Monday.
Holland said the majority of these are voters changing their addresses. He said only about 5 to 10 percent of these are new voters.
Whether voting by mail or in person, one thing’s for certain: this year Holland expects one of the highest voter turnouts in county history.
He said the highest year in recent memory was the 1976 presidential election, in which President Jimmy Carter narrowly beat President Gerald Ford.
The 2004 general election also showcased a high turnout, with 81 percent of county voters casting ballots, Holland said.
With all of the action, Holland, 51, who was elected to his second four-year term as the county’s Clerk, Recorder and Assessor in 2006, said it’s not stress, but excitement he feels.
“It’s all pretty incredible,” he said. “It’s democracy at work.”

1 comment:

David Pritchett said...

Headline is wrong.

Thousands of new voters for the County will be voting at polling places, especially at UCSB and Isla Vista, so the majority this time still will be polling place votes.