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Local News

Mail-Only Elections Are Likely Here to Stay in Santa Barbara

Decision not final but city officials tout turnout, price and trends as reasons to continue

Santa Barbara officials have yet to do a full debriefing of the city’s first mail-only election, but they plan to recommend using the model in 2011 and beyond.

The voting trend is going toward absentee ballots anyway, with 60 percent of voters mailing in their ballots for the 2007 municipal election, city administrative services director Marcelo Lopez told Noozhawk.

Saving money was also a big motivator for the new model. Although this year’s election was budgeted at $300,000, it’s expected to come in under the $280,000 spent in 2007, Lopez said.

For comparison, the city staffed 33 polling locations in 2007 but just seven drop-off locations this year, which saves the salaries of 80 paid poll workers.

And despite few ballots being cast in the first few weeks of the Nov. 3 election period, the 48.5 percent voter turnout was the best in 30 years for a municipal election.

Vote-by-mail elections are known to boost turnout, but this year’s result was higher than expected.

“We can’t discount the fact that almost $1 million was pumped into the campaigns,” Lopez said. “With that much money, people can’t help but be reminded every day that there’s an election.”

Candidates came into the City Clerk’s Office almost every day to get lists of registered voters who hadn’t yet voted, he said.

Election night went later than expected, with final tallies coming in after 1 a.m., and discrepancies between manual and machine-counted tallies caused a recount. No results changed after the recount.

Some common issues with the ballots this year were people forgetting to sign their ballot envelopes or signatures that didn’t match voter registration papers. Up until Election Day, city staff mailed letters to or called local residents to try to fix the issues before it was too late.

Mail-only elections are becoming more of a trend, and city staffers plan to do a full review to make the process more effective and efficient, Lopez said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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