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Vote-by-Mail Measure OK’d by Santa Barbara Council

The November election will see mail ballots, an extended drop-off voting period and fewer polling places

Santa Barbara voters will get to mail in their votes in November after the City Council approved a vote-by-mail measure that could save the city nearly $50,000 in election costs. According to clerk services manager Cynthia Rodriguez, the city’s voting data from 1983 to 2007 shows that vote-by-mail has steadily increased each election. In fact, Rodriguez said the 2007 election had nearly 70 percent of the ballots cast by mail.

In addition to saving money for the city, the new vote-by-mail system would extend voter opportunity. The vote-by-mail period would run from Oct. 5 to Nov. 3, and voters may also cast ballots at City Hall during during regular business hours in that period. The city’s plan also includes sending ballots with pre-paid postage.

Rodriguez said discussions are being conducted with Santa Barbara County elections chief Joe Holland on ways to decrease the number of polls and consolidate precincts.

Voters wishing to cast their ballots in person could do so at five designated polling places, which were selected because they have the largest voter turnouts. That number has been reduced from 33 polling places in Santa Barbara’s last election, which will pare to 50 the number of pollworkers needed to staff the locations, from 200. Those wishing to vote at a polling place will have two opportunities to do so; polls will be open Oct. 31, the Saturday before Election Day, and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, which is Nov. 3 this year.

Staff proposed that the Oct. 31 voting time frame would have polls open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but several members of the public and the council asked if those hours could be extended.

During public comment, Olivia Uribe, associate director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network, or SB CAN, called the measure a good one, but asked if staff would consider keeping the polls open longer that first Saturday. David Pritchett, a council candidate in November’s election, also commended the measure, especially the staff’s provision to include postage. Pritchett also asked council to extend the hours, saying that “leaving a wider window would encourage more voting.”

Several council members took issue with the reduction in polling places. Councilman Grant House said that for many people, working the polls during elections is a tradition.

“For many, that’s a very meaningful part of their civic participation,” he said. “There’s something about that that’s an intangible that’s hard to measure against savings of dollars and efficiency.”

House voted in favor of the measure, but encouraged staff to find ways that past pollworkers could contribute.

“There are some trade-offs,” said Marcello Lopez, director of administrative services. “But what we have seen in the studies, is that in every instance voter participation has increased.”

Lopez said the 10 a.m.-2 p.m. hours on Oct. 31 had been chosen because they represent peak times for voters, but he said staff could easily extend the hours. He also said additional ballot drop-off locations could be accommodated.

Councilmen Dale Francisco and Das Williams voted against the motion. Councilwoman Iya Falcone, who is running for mayor on the November ballot, abstained saying she felt “it was the right thing to do.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at [email protected]

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