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Election 2020: 'Unprecedented' early voting turnout on Central Coast

Courtesy of the SLO County Clerk-Recorders Office
45% of the 184,000 total registered voters in SLO County have voted as of Oct. 27.

With less than a week left until Election Day, an unprecedented number of ballots have already been cast in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, and all polling centers are set to open on Halloween.

San Luis Obispo County election official Tommy Gong said he expected this to be a record-breaking election, but even he was surprised by how quickly people cast their ballots. 

“The number of voters who voted almost right out of the gate was something we didn’t expect," Gong told KCBX. "We had to quickly ramp up our staff to begin the signature [verifying] process."

About half of the 184,000 registered voters in SLO County have already voted. Santa Barbara County Clerk Recorder Joe Holland is seeing a similar trend, with 101,000 ballots already received out of 235,000 registered voters in Santa Barbara County.

“This same point in time in 2016 we only had 55,000 ballots," Holland said. "So we are seeing almost double the volume for this election than we saw four years ago.”

Holland said the main issue his office is seeing is a lack of signatures on ballots. Those need to be fixed before they can be counted. 

“As of [Monday] we had 400 ballots that were not signed and we had 200 where the signature didn’t match," Holland said. "So you want to carefully sign your vote by mail envelope.”

All polling centers in the two counties are set to open Halloween. Gong anticipates some voters will arrive in costume, but warns people should keep in mind what not to wear if voting in person, including on their masks. 

Voters "should not wear any clothing, or a hat with the names of a candidate or any position on a measure,” Gong said.

Both Gong and Holland recommend voters not waiting until the last day to turn in their ballots. Holland said while it's okay to postmark or drop off mail-in ballots on Election Day, it’ll just take longer for it to be counted. 

“If you wait until the last minute to drop off your ballot, which of course you can, those ballots will not be in the count that we release at 8 o’clock," in the evening on November 3, Holland said. "We simply don’t have the capacity to process those, those will be processed after election day.”

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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