COVID-19 Changes Voting Options for Santa Barbara County

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Illustration by Grace Park

Alexandra Wishowski

Isla Vista Beat Reporter

This year, registered California voters have demonstrated record numbers of early voting. With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of slowing down, voters in Santa Barbara County have cast nearly 140,000 vote-by-mail ballots as of Nov. 1, with almost all of these ballots being accepted by the county. 

According to Joseph E. Holland of the County of Santa Barbara Clerk-Recorder, Assessor, and Elections Department (CARE), every registered voter in the state of California received a vote-by-mail ballot this year to discourage in-person voting. 

“We’ve never done 100 percent vote-by-mail in California before,” said Holland in an interview with The Bottom Line.

In the Isla Vista and UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) area, there will be two polling locations this year: the Isla Vista Community Center and the Linda Vista room at the Santa Catalina undergraduate residence hall. Another polling location near the Isla Vista area is set up at the Hilton Garden Inn on Hollister Avenue and Glenn Annie Road. 

Beginning Oct. 31, the Isla Vista locations will be open before Election Day for the first time. “These are going to be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and Monday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m,” explained Holland. 

On Election Day, these polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. UCSB students are also able to conveniently drop off their vote-by-mail ballots at the dropbox in front of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol Station located at 6504 Trigo Road. 

To protect the health and safety of in-person voters and poll workers, Holland explained that the Santa Barbara County Elections Division is going “the whole nine yards” to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The safety measures put in place include full personal protective equipment for poll workers, enforced requirements to follow social distancing protocols, and the disinfecting of stations between voters. Voters are also required to wear masks at all times.

 “We’re going to provide masks if you don’t have one,” stated Holland. 

Holland also noted that statistics from Oct. 30 indicate a total of 235,000 registered voters in Santa Barbara County and 127,000 returned ballots. The resulting 54 percent voter turnout four days before Election Day suggests that polling locations in the county are less likely to attract large crowds and long lines. 

Holland also shed light on how the county is devising precautions for other safety concerns, such as potential unrest over the results of the election. Although no threats are anticipated, the county is proactively working with the Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement authorities. 

“We are prepared on multiple levels,” said Holland. “Whether it’s a fire or a protest, or a power shutdown, or people getting COVID-19 at a polling location.”

In addition, Holland strongly advises students who are able to use alternative voting methods to avoid waiting until Election Day on Nov. 3 to cast their ballots in-person. “There’s no reason to wait until Tuesday,” he said.

“If students need to change their address to register to vote in Isla Vista, they can do that on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and even on Election Day,” he continued. 

Online voter registration is available at RegisterToVote.ca.gov. Further information on voter registration and voting options specific to Santa Barbara County can be found at sbcvote.com

Alexandra Wishowski
Alex Wishowski is a senior from Los Angeles, CA, pursuing a degree in Linguistics with minors in Applied Psychology and Spanish. She enjoys painting, astrology, Trader Joe's snacks, and taking care of her two cats.

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