Many students were surprised to discover the polls were not expecting them Tuesday.

An anomaly in the county clerk office’s voter registration software was responsible for many late-registered voters being erroneously marked as absentee voters at the county’s polling locations. Although no voters were turned away, the affected ballots were marked as provisional and will now be counted with other absentee ballots over the course of the next two to three weeks.

“If it were not for the persistence of the people who called in, we would not have caught the problem,” Bob Smith, the Elections Division manager at the county clerk’s office, said.

The software problem affected only late-registered voters, most of whom were recruited through voter-registration drives such as the one held on campus. While printing the supplemental ballot rosters, which contained the names of these voters, the software error caused all voters whose names followed the first listed absentee voter to be marked absentees as well. The inaccurate rosters were distributed to county polling locations. In addition to Santa Barbara County, the glitch also affected elections in 28 other counties that used the same software vendor.

The greatest number of late-registered voters in Santa Barbara County were students registered through the campus voter registration drive, making Isla Vista the most highly affected area. Over 7,500 voters were registered in the drive, with over 1,000 of those registered on the Oct. 21 deadline.

The problem was not obvious at first, Smith said, because many students were erroneously instructed to fill out the absentee portion of the ballot during the registration drive, resulting in an inordinately high number of absentee voters.

No on Recall coordinator Harley Augustino, who headed the drive, said students had, in fact, received accurate instructions concerning the process.

“All we did was turn in our registration forms,” he said. “We said when we passed them out in classes and on campus that if you want an absentee ballot, fill out the second form. This has nothing to do with us, the mistake was all the county.”

A problem became obvious when several voters pointed out to the Elections Office that they had not received absentee ballots in the mail. After double-checking the voters’ names against records at the Elections Office, the problem was discovered and quickly attributed to a problem with the computer software. The Elections Office then contacted the software vendor, which provided a patch to fix the program. Corrected rosters were printed immediately and distributed to polling locations by approximately 3 p.m., County Clerk-Recorder -Assessor Ken Pettit said.

According to Elections Office officials, ballots erroneously cast as absentee ballots before this time will still be considered provisional ballots and will be subject to the same verification process as other absentee and provisional ballots.

This process includes verifying the signature and identity of each voter and will require two to three weeks to complete. With the unusually large number of provisional ballots, the Elections Office may find itself under the gun to complete the tally before the month is out.

The first counting update will be reported to the California Secretary of State on Nov. 15. The county has requested that the election be certified by Nov. 27, to allow school board officials to take office Nov. 29. The state of California requires that the election be certified and canvassed by Dec. 3.

– Jennifer B. Siverts also contributed to this story.