SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how Americans vote.
All California voters received a mail-in ballot this year, which many have already completed. More than 100,000 people have voted early in Santa Barbara County.
But some still prefer to vote in-person. Early in-person voting in Santa Barbara County began on Saturday.
Poll workers have extra responsibilities this year: to keep polling places clean and keep voters feeling safe.
"Instead of 86 polling places [the number during March's primary election], we now have 35 in-person polling places open for four days," said Santa Barbara County registrar of voters Joe Holland. "We needed to [add more days] to provide the proper social distancing at all our polling locations."
At those locations, voting booths are six feet apart and cleaned as soon as a voter leaves the booth.
Plexiglass also separates voters and poll workers who sit behind desks collecting registration information.
All voters are asked to wear a mask, and one can be provided for voters arriving without one. However, voters are not allowed to wear a mask (or any other item) that references a specific candidate or proposition; that is considered electioneering.
“We’re trained to maintain social distancing between ourselves as much as possible and voters as much as possible,” Santa Barbara poll worker Morgan Fredricks said. “I don’t feel very at-risk in there at all. I think we’re all taking a lot of precautions, and I think it’s going really smoothly.”
Voters can drop off completed mail-in ballots to poll workers at polling place entrances without needing to go inside.
People can also vote curbside in their cars upon request, with a poll worker bringing the necessary materials out to the car.
Elections officials hope those options--in addition to the surge in ballots mailed-in or dropped in official drop boxes--set up a smooth Election Day.
“With so many people voting early, we hopefully are not gonna have crowds at the polling places on Election Day," Holland said. "So that helps protect the safety of voters in general."
Poll workers say the first three days of early in-person voting in the county have been slow, but they are expecting more people on Tuesday.
“I think it’ll be smooth even if there are more crowds,” Fredricks said. “We’re definitely trying to accommodate everyone and keep it safe and keep it clean.”
So far, voters passing through the in-person polling places have seemed comfortable and have not complained about the protocols in place.
“It’s really safe, don’t be afraid,” said Graciela Perez, a voter who wants to set an example for her children. “I think tomorrow everybody needs to go out and vote.”