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Thursday, July 9, 2020

SLO County begins planning for vote-by-mail-centered November election

Posted By on Thu, Jul 9, 2020 at 8:44 AM

The San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office is gearing up for the Nov. 3 election, which is in for some changes due to COVID-19, including a reduction in physical polling locations and more vote-by-mail ballots.

A new state law requires that counties send mail-in ballots to every registered voter ahead of the election, whether the voter asks for one or not. For SLO County and most California counties, that’s not a new concept. The majority of voters already cast their ballots this way.

click to enlarge NEW MODEL Every registered voter in SLO County will receive a mail-in ballot ahead of the Nov. 3 election, per a new COVID-19 election model. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • NEW MODEL Every registered voter in SLO County will receive a mail-in ballot ahead of the Nov. 3 election, per a new COVID-19 election model.
“It is something we already have in place,” said SLO County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong in a July 7 presentation to the SLO County Board of Supervisors. “We sent out 140,000 ballots to our 175,000 voters [in the last election]. So we’re looking at maybe about 35,000 [more] ballots.”

While the mail-in ballots are not a huge change or challenge, Gong said his office is mostly grappling with how to accommodate in-person voting. Already, 46 percent of the county’s poll workers and polling locations have canceled for the upcoming election due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

“That was really kind of shocking to us, but it’s certainly understandable,” Gong said.

Gong is now looking to use 21 venues as vote centers, which would be a substantial decrease in overall polling locations from the 74 utilized in the March primary. The new state law allows for a reduction in polling places, but it requires at least one vote center per 10,000 registered voters (which equates to 18 in SLO County).

The 21 proposed locations would open starting four days before Election Day, which is required by the new law. Gong said he wants to add an additional 17 ballot drop-off locations throughout the county for mail-in voters.

The goal is to encourage voting by mail and also to space out the in-person voting over a four-day period.



“We’re going to try to convince voters to vote that vote-by-mail ballot, but if they do have to come to a location, come on the other days—Saturday, Sunday, Monday—to help lessen that load on Election Day,” he explained.

Gong said his office needs large venues for voting centers to safely accommodate social distancing. Among the current list of hopeful locations are the mid-state fairground in Paso Robles, the old terminal in the SLO County Airport, the Dana Adobe Cultural Center in Nipomo, and the Pavillon on the Lake in Atascadero.

“I’m going to need large locations. … We’re going to physically distance the voters,” Gong said.

The Clerk-Recorder’s Office is writing up an official election plan that will be followed by a public comment period. Gong also plans to convene a citizen focus group in the coming weeks to provide feedback on the plan. ∆

—Peter Johnson
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