Ladies and gentleman, start your ballots.
Although the June 5 primary election is still weeks away, voting is now officially under way in Santa Barbara County.
“Ballots for all permanent absentee voters — and there were over 100,000 of those — were dropped in the mail today,” Billie Alvarez, chief deputy registrar of voters, said Monday.
That means those ballots should start arriving in mailboxes throughout the county as early as Tuesday, with the most vigilant voters sending them back this week. However, no ballots will be counted until after the polls close June 5.
Absentees are a phenomenon that over the years has changed election dynamics and the way campaigns are run.
Where once candidates made a big push for votes in the final two or three weeks — a period when many voters finally started paying attention — today they start scrambling to lock in votes as soon as the absentees hit the mailboxes.
There are almost 190,000 registered voters in Santa Barbara County, Alvarez said, and 54 percent vote absentee.
Absentee ballots must be received at the county elections offices — or dropped off at an official polling place — before the polls close at 8 p.m. June 5 to be counted.
Voters this election will notice a significant change in the choice on their ballots, thanks to the adoption of what is commonly known as the open primary.
Instead of voters only casting ballots for candidates from their own party, as traditionally has been done in the past, they can now choose from any of the many candidates from all parties. For U.S. senator, for example, there are 24 candidates on the ballot, including 14 Republicans and six Democrats.
The top two candidates in each race in June — regardless of party — will face off in November, which raises the possibility of two Republicans or two Democrats being in a runoff.
This system, also known as the “top-two candidates” approach, will apply to all partisan races except for president and the central committees, Alvarez said.
Nonpartisan races such as county supervisor are not affected by this change. If a candidate for supervisor gets more than 50 percent of the vote in June, he or she will be elected. Otherwise, the top two candidates will face a November runoff.
“Voters may be a little confused as to why all those candidates are there on the ballot,” Alvarez said, adding that she’s confident most voters will figure out the system.
Santa Barbara County leans Democratic in registration. There are 78,367 voters registered as Democrats, 60,617 as Republicans and 42,898 who claim no party preference. Another nearly 8,000 voters are spread among minor parties, such as the American Independent, Green, Libertarian, and Peace and Freedom.
May 21 is the last day to register to vote, except for people who become residents after that date and new citizens. May 29 is the last day to request an absentee ballot. Emergency absentee requests will be accepted up until election day.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. June 5.
Click here for more information about registration, absentee ballots, polling places and voting.