Aided by local registration efforts and increased interest in this year’s presidential election, voter registration rates in Santa Barbara County are the highest they have been in 20 years.
Joe Holland, Santa Barbara County clerk, said approximately 80 percent of the estimated 270,000 eligible voters in the county had registered as of Oct. 26. He said 24,762 of these voters registered between the March 2004 primaries and the Oct. 18 voter registration deadline. Holland said this year’s registration drives produced more registered voters than either the 1996 or 2000 elections, which increased the number of county voters in each of those years by 15,000 and 16,000 people respectively.
“The increase in voter registration, that 24,762, is the highest increase [for Santa Barbara County] since 1984,” Holland said. “In that respect, I am optimistic that we will see a higher number in the turnouts [on Nov. 2].”
Registration drives by a variety of groups including the county, the League of Women Voters, Campus Democrats and People United for Economic justice Building Leadership through Organizing (PUEBLO) are largely responsible for this year’s increase in voter registration, Holland said. He said he thinks predictions in the media that the Nov. 2 election will be a close run-off between the two presidential candidates were also a major force in the registration increase.
Holland also said he thinks UCSB students have realized their responsibility as voters in this election.
UCSB and Isla Vista are broken down into a precinct that covers the area from Francisco Torres Residence Hall to Campus Point, Holland said. He said there are currently 15,974 people registered to vote in this precinct – an increase from the 11,991 people registered to vote in the March primaries.
PUEBLO Executive Director Harley Augustino said he estimates his organization has registered roughly 4,000 new voters since the 2004 primaries.
Augustino said PUEBLO, which tries to build grassroots political leadership and support among low-income families in Santa Barbara, began its voter registration drive in May. He said the group held approximately 130 meetings at private residences throughout the county to discuss voter registration strategies. People who attended the planning meetings were assigned to specific committees that target areas such as Isla Vista, Goleta, east and west Santa Barbara and Carpinteria. Members from each committee went door to door in their respective areas to encourage residents to vote, Augustino said.
“One goal is to increase the voter turnout in low-income communities,” Augustino said. “If they live in the neighborhoods that we are organizing, there is a greater chance that they will get out and vote.”
PUEBLO focused on lower-income families, many of whom are Latino, in order to empower a group whose voice, Augustino said, is not typically heard.
“Voting is power,” Augustino said. “If younger people and working-class people do not vote, it is easy for politicians to ignore [them].”
Despite the increase in voter registration, Holland said he is still unsure about how many registered voters will actually turn out on Election Day.
“In the last election in March there was a 55 percent turnout,” Holland said. “In 2000, there was a 70 percent turnout. I am hoping that we get a 75 percent turnout because of the interest in this election. It is an optimistic expectation, but I am hoping the citizens of Santa Barbara County will prove me right.”
Augustino said he thinks a 75 to 80 percent voter turnout on Nov. 2 is possible.
“The registration increase shows there is an interest in this particular election,” Augustino said. “Our goal is to make sure that everyone that votes in the next election also votes in 2005.”
Voters can find the location of their polling place by calling 1-800-SBC-VOTE or visiting www.sbcvote.com.