A voter prepares to return a ballot into an official drop box outside the county Elections Office at 4440-A Calle Real in Santa Barbara.
A voter prepares to return a ballot into an official drop box outside the county Elections Office at 4440-A Calle Real in Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

If voters in Santa Barbara County have worries about whether mail-in voting is secure for the Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s recommended to check California’s My Voter Status website.

“You will be able to see if we have accepted your ballot and if it’s ready to process,” county Clerk-Recorder-Assessor-Registrar of Voters Joe Holland said.

The California Secretary of State’s Office offers a website for tracking and notifications on the status of a vote-by-mail ballot. Voters can sign up for automatic email, SMS text messages or voice call notifications. Click here for more information.

“The secrecy of your vote is protected,” Holland said.

In addition, there are multiple measures in place before a ballot can be tabulated, plus safeguards, such as the use of high-speed scanners to count the ballots and a highly secure server that is isolated and protected by cameras.

“No one gets to see the results until 8 p.m. on election night,” Holland said. “Anybody that goes into that room where the server is, they need to be accompanied by somebody, and it is on camera … and the server is not connected to the Internet.”

In the era of COVID-19, every registered voter in California is receiving a ballot in the mail for the Nov. 3 election, which allows voters the option to vote from home before Election Day.

More than 18,680 ballots were returned in Santa Barbara County as of Friday, according to Holland.

There were 227,000 mail-in ballots delivered from the printer in Arizona to the U.S. post office in Goleta on Sept. 28, a week sooner than required. The U.S. Postal Service “pretty much got all of those ballots delivered the next day,” Holland said.

“I have the utmost confidence in the United States Postal Service,” he said. “They are frontline workers and heroes.”

During the March primary, 237 ballots had a signature that didn’t match the one on record for the voter, while 277 lacked a signature and 1,006 arrived too late because the voter missed a deadline, according to Holland. While only a small percentage of ballots were rejected because the signature didn’t match to confirm the voter’s identity, “even a very small percentage is not good,” he said.

Santa Barbara County had 227,000 registered voters ahead of the election in March, and about 175,000 vote-by-mail ballots were distributed to voters, according to the Elections Office.

Santa Barbara County officials urge voters to make sure they properly sign the envelope provided with each ballot.

Santa Barbara County officials urge voters to make sure they properly sign the envelope provided with each ballot. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Nearly 75 percent of registered voters in Santa Barbara County had already signed up to permanently receive their ballot by mail, making the Elections Office well-positioned to handle the increase for this year’s November election, according to Holland.

The process of voting is simple and secure since a voter can make decisions and mark the ballot at home, according to the Elections Office.

Mail-in ballots received by Nov. 3 are checked in with local election officials, signatures are verified and voting credit is given to prevent a second ballot being counted for a voter, according to the Elections Office. Verified ballots received by Oct. 31 will be included in the count on election night.

“The first thing we do,” Holland said, “once we receive your envelope with your ballot, is we check the signature.”

He emphasized how important it is to properly sign the envelope provided with each ballot. 

“You don’t want to sloppily sign your signature,” he said.

The signature on the ballot envelope is compared to the voter’s signature on file once a ballot arrives for processing. The mail-in ballot signature will be compared to your signature on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles, or it will be matched against your original voter registration on file.

“You want to sign your vote-by-mail envelope in a similar manner to which you sign your driver’s license or your original registration because we do check that,” Holland said. “Our system has signatures for every vote-by-mail ballot signed, in addition to original voter registration signature. We have that electronically. We check those against the signature you have on your ballot.”

Voters sometimes forget to sign the ballot envelope.

“We can’t count your ballot if you don’t sign your envelope,” Holland said.

If a signature doesn’t match or if a voter forgets to sign at all, elections staff will send a letter to the voter to fix it.

If a ballot isn’t counted because of either one of those two incidences, “you are going to know about it because we are going to tell you about it,” Holland said. “We are going to give you an opportunity to fix it.”

If the ballot is placed in the mail, the U.S. Postal Service suggests doing so by Oct. 27 for it to be postmarked by Nov. 3 to be counted. Ballots postmarked on Election Day or ballots that arrive earlier are counted if received within 17 days after Election Day, as long as they are postmarked no later than Nov. 3.

About 50,000 of Santa Barbara County’s registered voters routinely don’t vote-by-mail, Holland said.

“They went to the polls on Election Day,” he said. “For them, this is going to be a new thing.”

The statewide voter registration database provides the county Elections Office with updates on newly registered voters and people who moved or changed addresses. The information is sent to the county’s ballot printer, and then a new batch of ballots is mailed.

Santa Barbara County voters who don’t receive a ballot in the mail by Saturday should call the Elections Office at 800.722.8683. To confirm vote-by-mail status or voter registration status, voters also can look up their status on the Secretary of State’s Office website by clicking here.

Once polls close at 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, Santa Barbara County will begin releasing initial tallies of votes. The initial counts reflect mail-in ballots received in the weeks and days leading up to Election Day.

“If you wait until Election Day to drop off your ballot, your ballot won’t be in the results that night,” Holland said. “We don’t count those until the days after the election.”

According to local election officials, after votes are cast at in-person polling locations through 8 p.m. on election night, the ballots are securely transported to the elections operation center for counting. Verified votes cast in person are included in the last results reported on election night.

Voting credit is given to in-person voters to prevent a second ballot being counted by the same voter, county officials said.

Damaged ballots or ballots that can’t be read by the tabulator and provisional ballots are processed after Nov. 5, according to the Elections Office.

Once it is confirmed that a voter has not already voted, these ballots can be added to the election result total, according to Santa Barbara County officials.

After all other ballots are counted, the conditional and provisional ballots are checked to ensure that the voter has not voted for the Nov. 3 election anywhere else in California. If the voter is eligible to vote, these voters are added to the final election result total.

Oct. 24 will mark the first-ever Vote Early Day, a movement aimed at ensuring Americans know their options to vote early. The movement aims to educate eligible voters about their voting options and celebrate the act of voting early, according to the Vote Early Day website.

“Vote early,” Holland said. “If people vote by Oct. 24, we are going to be far ahead of the game.”

For those who prefer in-person voting or for additional services such as language assistance or a replacement ballot, 35 polling places will be open Oct. 31 through Election Day.

Facial coverings will be required, and there could be a socially distanced waiting line, according to the county Elections Office.

A list of all polling places and drop boxes are printed in the county Voter Information Guide, and are searchable by ZIP code at sbcvote.com.

Three election offices in the county will be open for voting, voter registration and voter questions through Nov. 3 at 4440-A Calle Real in Santa Barbara, 511 E. Lakeside Parkway in Santa Maria and 401 E. Cypress Ave., Room 102 in Lompoc. All offices will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday through Election Day.

Click here to read stories in Noozhawk’s Election 2020 section.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.