060810 Lompoc ballots.jpg
Poll workers wait for voters on Election Day June 8 near a box used to collect ballots at St. Mary’s Church in Lompoc. //Staff file

When registered voters in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties cast their ballots in the June 8 statewide primary election, they may have noticed a change.

Instead of feeding completed ballots through an AccuVote machine, voters dropped their ballots into a cardboard box.

To save the cash-strapped county some money, elections officials decided to “go back to the future” with ballot-counting methods, according to Joe Holland, Santa Barbara County clerk-recorder-assessor.

“It’s just like we did it in the olden days,” added Julie Rodewald, San Luis Obispo County’s clerk-recorder.

The paper ballots were trucked from polling places across each county to the main elections center, where they were then fed into dozens of voting machines.

“This is the way elections have been conducted traditionally for decades, with a central election office,” Holland said. “It is overall more secure; there’s more control of the vote tabulation machines when you have them in a centralized area.”

Rodewald agreed, saying, “It not only saves us money with all the pre- and post-election testing, but it gives us better control over the process.”

The counties save money by not programming more than 100 voting machines, testing them, sealing them, maintaining an audit log, hiring staff to distribute the machines, and then paying an extra poll worker to be responsible for each machine on election day, Holland said.

It makes the process somewhat slower, though.

“(The primary election) was a slower election night. We finished (counting) the last precinct at about 1:30 a.m.” —  two hours later than usual, Rodewald said. “It’s not the speed, but the accuracy and integrity of the process we’re interested in.”

A few years ago, poll workers could transfer the results electronically by modem from their precinct’s voting machines to the election office at the end of election day.

While it was quick and painless, the Secretary of State released revised guidelines that prohibited collecting ballot results by modem, Holland said.

In 2008, both counties kept the voting machines at precincts, then had the memory cards driven to an elections center.

It ended up being expensive and not particularly expedient, Holland said.

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On Tuesday, in the special primary election for the 15th District state Senate seat vacated by now-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, voters in that district can expect to again drop their ballots into a cardboard box.

The district spans five counties, including the northern portion of Santa Barbara County and all of San Luis Obispo County, extending north to San Jose.

In preparation for that balloting, election offices will hold special hours for the public Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Santa Maria and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in San Luis Obispo and Atascadero.

On Tuesday, polling places and all elections offices will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The polling locations are different from those in the June 8 primary election, so voters are encouraged to check their sample ballot or contact their election office for the correct location.

In Santa Maria, the elections office is at 511 E. Lakeside Parkway. For more information about Santa Barbara County elections, visit www.sbcvote.com or call (800) SBC-VOTE.

In San Luis Obispo County, voters can call 781-5228 or visit www.slocounty.ca.gov/clerk/elections.htm. Elections offices are at 1055 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo and 5955 Capistrano Ave. in Atascadero.