SLO Co. supervisors decide to use voter polling places for future elections, against survey results

May 5, 2021

In a 3-2 vote, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors decided May 4 to move forward with using polling places instead of voter service centers for future elections in the county. That vote goes against the preferences expressed by respondents in a recent countywide voter survey.

Polling places are open only on election day at 76 locations throughout the county. Voters are assigned a specific polling center to visit, based on their home address. The polling places each serve about 300 voters per location and require 1,000 poll workers. With the polling place model, only people who request to vote by mail will receive a ballot in the mail.

On the other hand, voter service centers would be open 4-10 days prior to and on election day. There would be 20 locations throughout the county, and registered voters could visit any one of them to cast their ballots. The voter service centers would need 1,400 poll workers, and all registered voters would receive a ballot in the mail.

A countywide voter survey sent by the County Clerk-Recorder’s Office received more than 5,500 responses showing that 80% of respondents prefer to vote by mail, but if they had to vote in person, about 57% prefer to do it at a voter service center.

The county used voter service centers in the November 2020 general election and all voters received mail-in ballots due to the pandemic.

County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong said this new method gave insight into possibilities for running future elections.

Residents from across the county called in to the meeting May 4 to express concerns about the security of the county’s election process.

Many suggested that every vote be hand-counted, but Gong says that would be very difficult because a record 162,615 votes were cast in the county for the 2020 presidential election.

“For the number of ballots that we had in November, we would need 160 people — 40 teams — to count that many ballots over 20 days,” Gong said. “So let’s just take the dollar amount out of it and let’s just look at the time that is involved in it. I just wanted to put some things in perspective in that respect.”

The board also approved spending $470,000 to purchase equipment to improve the election process, including permanent high-volume vote-by-mail ballot drop-off boxes, replacement high-volume envelope openers, and three mobile vote center trailers.

All of those costs will be covered by a voting system replacement grant fund provided by the state.

Based on Tuesday’s vote, Gong said his team may opt to purchase fewer mobile vote centers, resulting in lower spending costs.

Ongoing costs that are not covered by the grant total about $420,000 for each election. That amount pays for things like renting out polling places, vote-by-mail costs, staffing and education and outreach.