Voter turnout up 10 percentage points in Merced compared to 2011, but still low

11/06/2013 7:03 PM

11/07/2013 11:20 PM

Rose Mary and Stan Bunce walked out of the polling place at the Merced Civic Center on Tuesday holding hands after having done their “patriotic and civic duty.”

“We always vote,” Rose Mary Bunce, 68, said.

The Bunces were two of the 10,650 people who voted in Merced County elections, which typically draw a lower count than their counterparts. About 22 percent of the Merced County electorate cast ballots in area races on Tuesday, which is up from the 2011 election turnout of 12 percent but still on the low side.

The 2010 election, with state and county seats on the ballot, saw a 51 percent turnout, and 2012’s presidential election drew 64 percent of Merced voters.

The Bunces said they were particularly interested in casting a ballot in favor of Measure J, which amended the city charter to eliminate off-year municipal elections and earned more than 90 percent voter approval.

The ballot measure was touted as a way to save Merced money by splitting election costs with other jurisdictions.

“I think we need to save money any way we can, and having these kind of elections is a big waste of people’s time and money,” said Stan Bunce, 71. “Plus, it’s not representative or a democratic thing, if you only have 12 percent of the people vote.”

Joseph “Billy Ray” Walker, 32, said he went to the polls Tuesday because he was most interested in voting for one of the mayoral candidates. He declined to say which.

“The person I voted for seemed like they had a better outline, and (would) improve the community,” he said. “And we all hope for that.”

Merced re-elected Mayor Stan Thurston with 3,729 votes, compared to opponent Noah Lor’s 3,343.

Councilman Josh Pedrozo also got the re-election nod with 3,942 votes during Tuesday’s elections.

The second- and third-place vote-getters in the Merced City Council race – Kevin Blake at 3,318 and Michael Belluomini at 2,824 – will also get seats. The rest of the candidates trailed by 390 votes or more.

Merced County Registrar of Voters Barbara Levey said some provisional ballots remain to be counted, but they are too few to sway any of the elections.

As of Wednesday, about 130 provisional ballots remained in Merced, 140 in Los Banos and 40 in the Turlock Irrigation District races, Levey said.

A few factors likely led to this year’s increase in voter turnout. Levey said voters probably responded to the number of names on the ballot this year, as well as the highly active campaigns. She said the turnout in Merced was slightly higher at 24 percent than the county as a whole.

“With the eight candidates, I think that alone generated a lot of interest,” Levey said of the City Council hopefuls. “Most of them had been quite active in regards to the election and campaigning, as has the mayor’s race.”

Levey said the electorate likely voted in higher numbers to say “yes” to Measure J, which experts said was a way to save money by sharing election costs. Experts have said that it would draw a larger number of voters for municipal elections.

“I think that folks welcome an opportunity to vote on something that they believe might save the city money,” she said.

Voters in Los Banos approved Measure K, an amendment allowing money from a half-cent sales tax measure to continue to be used for salaries of emergency services, with 2,144 votes in favor and 337 opposed.

The Turlock Irrigation District race went to incumbent Ron Macedo, who received 998 votes. Opponent Darrell Monroe received 545. The water district includes parts of northern Merced County and the city of Turlock.

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