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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 11:45 am | Fair 65º


A Flurry of Activity on Eve of Santa Barbara County Primary Election

More than 43,000 absentee ballots already have been received as workers prepare for Tuesday's voting

The polls don’t open until 7 a.m. Tuesday, but already some 43,000 Santa Barbara County residents have cast their votes.

Most of those vote-by-mail ballots already have been counted, although no one — not even county elections chief Joseph Holland — knows the results.

Santa Barbara County elections workers staff a phone bank Monday, answering questions from voters. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)
Santa Barbara County elections workers staff a phone bank Monday, answering questions from voters. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Those won’t be revealed until after the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Holland said Monday during a tour of his operations.

Until then, they are locked in the memory banks of a pair of computers, which are in turn locked in a room at the county elections offices off Calle Real west of Santa Barbara.

Monday saw a flurry of activity inside those offices.

Vote-by-mail ballots continued to flow in throughout the day, to be sent through an exacting process that includes verifying voter signatures, opening the envelopes with a specialized machine, tabulating the votes and storing the counted ballots.

A phone bank was busy with elections workers fielding calls from residents wondering about their polling place, or the status of their absentee ballots and the like.

“People call in, and we want to be able to answer their questions,” Holland said.

Another team of workers was putting the finishing touches on the game plan for the 937 poll workers who will staff a total of 97 voting locations countywide.

They’ll each be paid $130 for a day that begins at about 6:15 a.m. and won’t end until after 9 p.m., Holland said.

Vote-by-mail or absentee ballots, which can make up as much as 70 percent of the votes cast, were mailed to 109,650 voters, Holland said. As of midday Monday, about 43,000 had been returned.

Absentees must be received by elections officials prior to the polls closing, and can be dropped of at any election office or polling place.

Holland said the first results should be released shortly after the polls close, and will account for about 25 percent of the total.

The remaining ballots will have to be trucked to the county elections office, where banks of tabulating machines stand ready. Election staff will provide periodic updates through the evening.

The last ballots — primarily those from the North County — aren’t expected to arrive for counting until after 10 p.m., Holland said.

Tuesday’s primary election will cost about $1.3 million total, Holland said, and require a seasonally-boosted staff of more than 70 people in his office.

Absentee ballots zip through a specialized  machine that opens the envelopes and removes the ballots. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)
Absentee ballots zip through a specialized machine that opens the envelopes and removes the ballots. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

The election includes races ranging from U.S. senator and statewide initiatives to state Assembly, county supervisor and local ballot propositions such as W, X and Y on the South Coast, and U in the city of Santa Maria.

A new twist this year is the “open primary,” which will be in effect for races such as Congress, U.S. Senate, state Senate and Assembly.

The big difference from the past is that instead of voters casting ballots by party in the primary, they can choose from all the candidates.

The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will face a runoff in November.

For information about Tuesday’s voting, including precinct locations, visit the county elections website.

Voters also can call the elections offices at 805.568.2200 in Santa Barbara; 805.346.8374 in Santa Maria; and 805.737.7704 in Lompoc.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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