Those who prefer to vote in person will have fewer locations to choose from, but can access voter service centers early this year

SAN LUIS OBISPO — With just under 30 days until the Nov. 3 general election, San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong is confident the election will run smoothly.

“Yes,” Gong said. “I don’t anticipate a delay in the vote.”

Early voting began Monday, Oct. 5, in SLO County. People can drop off mail-in ballots at any designated drop off location through Nov. 3 or at any voter service center from Oct. 5 to Nov. 3. People can vote in person at any voter service center from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3.

“People definitely have options,” Gong said.

There are 19 drop off locations and 23 voter service centers in SLO County.

Ballot drop boxes are subject to the Secretary of State’s ballot box regulations. As with poll ballots, VBM ballots have the same chain of custody protocol with the two-person rule, counting of ballots retrieved, and logged on a sheet, which is then verified when the are returned to the Election Office.

All people at the drop off locations that have access to ballots are deputized by the Clerk-Recorder’s Office. In other words, they are officially trained and sworn to protect the ballots until they are picked up by teams of deputized officials from the Clerk-Recorder’s Office.

Per Secretary of State ballot box regulations, ballots are to be retrieved every 96 hours (excluding Saturday and Sunday) from the 29th day before the election, then every 72 hours starting 10 days before Election Day. Unstaffed boxes are required to be serviced every 24 hours after the 10th day prior through Election Day.

For the first time, county election offices in California sent a ballot to every active registered voter. Plus, the state Legislature changed the law to say that, as long as ballots are postmarked by Nov. 3, they can arrive at county election offices up to 17 days after the election and still be counted.

California has more than 21 million people registered to vote, the most ever. SLO County sent out approximately 179,000 vote-by-mail ballots ahead of the general election.

California voters can track their ballots this year at https://california.ballottrax.net/voter/.

Voting in person this year will be a bit of a new experience, Gong said.

While every active registered voter in California will get a ballot in the mail, some people must vote in person for various reasons, including lost or damaged mailed ballots, the need for language assistance or help due to a disability, or because they want to register to vote on Election Day, which California law allows at polling places.

Traditional polling places — community centers, retirement homes and in some cases people’s garages — have been hard to come by because of the pandemic.

State Senate Bill 423 gave counties a workaround. It let them merge precincts, as long as they keep the ratio of one precinct per 10,000 registered voters instead of the typical 1,000 voters. These consolidated polling places — voter service centers — must be open from Saturday, Oct. 31, through Monday, Nov. 2, for at least eight hours each day and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Lines could be long at the voter service centers, especially on Nov. 3, due to COVID-19 guidelines. 

A detailed set of instructions written by state officials in July urges at least six feet of space between voting equipment and voter check-in locations. In some tight spots, the guide urges the use of plexiglass partitions. And marked spaces on the floor, similar to those in retail and grocery stores, should be used for voters waiting to cast a ballot.

Election workers will be expected to follow strict public health rules, including sanitizing voting equipment at each site and wearing gloves and other protective equipment.

Voters who arrive without a mask will be offered one, as will anyone wearing a mask with a slogan of support for a candidate, a violation of rules banning electioneering at the polls.

As usual, anyone in line Nov. 3 when the centers close at 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote, Gong reiterated.

The easiest way to vote in person is to bring your mailed ballot with you to your nearest center. If you don’t have a ballot, you may need to vote provisionally. Officials may want to verify your registration status or confirm that it wasn’t already mailed. With these extra steps, a vote may not be counted on Nov. 3, but it will eventually.

California is a state that allows counties to begin processing votes before polls close on Nov. 3. Gong said his office will start on Oct. 15. Having verified the signatures on the return envelopes, elections officials remove the voted ballots and process them through their vote tallying system. Under no circumstances may they tabulate the results until after the close of polls on election day.

Californians have been voting by mail for years, each election showing a steady increase of participation. In March, more than 72% of votes cast in the state’s primary came through the U.S. Postal Service.

The March primary was a record-setting election for SLO County with 176,343 registered voters and 111,239 ballots cast. Nearly 80% of voters in the County cast vote-by-mail ballots.

Gong is expecting those numbers to be higher for the general election. He continues to work with local US Postal Service Postmasters and will be adjusting his staffing to help with the election.

“The US Post Office has been very cooperative with us,” Gong said. “Yes, they treat the ballot as a top priority.”

For a complete list of drop off and voter service center locations in SLO County click here.

North County Drop Off Locations

Hours of operation vary by location:

Start: Monday, Oct. 5

End: Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m.

Vote-by-mail ballots can also be dropped off at Voter Service Centers.

• Atascadero Library

6555 Capistrano Ave

Tuesday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

24/7 Book Drop

• Creston Library

6290 Adams

24/7 Book Drop

• Paso Robles City Library

1000 Spring St

Monday-Friday:10 a.m.-7 p.m.

Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

24/7 Book Drop

Monday-Saturday: 9-10 a.m. Vulnerable population

• San Miguel Library

254 13th St

24/7 Book Drop

• Santa Margarita Library

9630 Murphy Ave

24/7 Book Drop

• Shandon Library

195 N. 2nd St

24/7 Book Drop

• Templeton CSD Office

420 Crocker St

Monday-Friday: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

North County Voter Service Center Locations

Hours of operation:

Saturday, Oct. 31-Monday, Nov. 2: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

Vote-by-mail ballots can also be dropped off at Voter Service Centers.

• Atascadero Lake Pavilion

9315 Pismo Ave

Saturday, Oct. 31-Monday, Nov. 2: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

• Atascadero National Guard Armory

6105 Olmeda Ave

Saturday, Oct. 31-Monday, Nov. 2: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

• Clerk-Recorder Office – Atascadero

6565 Capistrano Ave.

Saturday, Oct. 31-Monday, Nov. 2: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

• Heritage Ranch CSD Office

4870 Heritage Rd

Saturday, Oct. 31-Monday, Nov. 2: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

• Mid-State Fair – Frontier Building

2198 Riverside Ave, Paso Robles

Saturday, Oct. 31-Monday, Nov. 2: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

• Paso Robles Culinary Arts Building

1900 Golden Hill Rd

Saturday, Oct. 31-Monday, Nov. 2: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

• Paso Robles Senior Center

270 Scott St.

Saturday, Oct. 31-Monday, Nov. 2: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

• Templeton High School – Gym

1200 S. Main

Saturday, Oct. 31-Monday, Nov. 2: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

Getting through this together, Atascadero