Late into Election Night, Livingston Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza continued to pull away slowly but steadily from longtime incumbent John Pedrozo in the race for the District 1 seat on the Merced County Board of Supervisors.
Espinoza’s narrow lead has been growing throughout the night. The slim margin has gone from 38 to just more than 100 votes over Pedrozo, but took a significant jump at 10:40 p.m., picking up a lead of 289 votes.
Espinoza held 54.97 percent to Pedrozo’s 44.67 percent as of 10:45 p.m. with 87.3 percent of precincts reporting.
Espinoza, speaking by phone, was cautiously optimistic and said Pedrozo likely faced a challenge stronger than he expected.
“He probably thought he was going to win pretty easily,” Espinoza said, “but I think the community is responding. We have need for change in our county and all of our communities. We need more investment, not just in our youth but in our youth, in our roads. We need improvements in crime and we need more businesses.”
Pedrozo told the Sun-Star he has been in tight races before. When asked about the fight put up by Espinoza, Pedrozo said he was “staying positive.”
“We’re waiting for the final results to see how everything plays out,” Pedrozo told the Sun-Star.
The race Tuesday night was the closest for Pedrozo since he was first elected in 2004 when he beat Diana Padilla 61 percent to 37.2 percent. Pedrozo was unopposed in 2008 and cruised to an easy win in 2012 with more than 62 percent of the vote to Jim Pacheco's 37.06 percent, according to county and Sun-Star archives.
In the District 2 race, incumbent Hub Walsh was poised to head into a run-off against community organizer Lee Lor. With nearly 96.61 percent of precincts reporting, Walsh had 39.27 percent of the vote compared to 38.81 for Lor. They were separated by just 29 votes. Radio talk show host Casey Steed had 21.84 percent.
Three of the board’s five seats are up for election, giving Merced County voters an opportunity to reshape the body’s majority. Walsh was first elected to the board in 2008. In District 4, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey is retiring after 20 years on the board.
With more than 56 percent of precincts reporting in the open District 4 race, Merced River School District board member Lloyd Pareira had more than 42 percent of the vote. Former Gustine Mayor Rich Ford followed with more than 25 percent; businessman Jack Mobley had more than 14 percent; Delhi Unified School District board President Fidel Cervantes had nearly 14 percent; and Delhi community leader Ramon Prado had a little more than 4 percent.
Without a majority win, the top two finishers in Tuesday’s election will advance to the runoff in November.
Voter turnout was reported to be strong in several polling stations, but Merced County Registrar of Voters Barbara Levey said final numbers would not be available Tuesday and it wasn’t clear whether participation was greater than during the last presidential primary.
“This election four years ago, we had an overall 26 percent turnout,” Levey said. “I think we’ll get there, but it’s hard to say if we’ll do anything beyond that.”
About 500 poll workers were up early to set up polling stations that opened at 7 a.m. There were a few glitches in setting up equipment, so some voters dropped their ballots in ballot boxes, Levey said. “Those are typical and minor,” she said.”
Polling stations received a heavy influx of voters dropping off vote-by-mail ballots, which Levey predicted will be counted by Friday. Provisional ballots likely would be counted early next week.
On Tuesday night, the first numbers released after polls closed at 8 p.m. were the vote-by-mail ballots received prior to Election Day.
“All mailed ballots, vote-by-mail ballots and provisional ballots really do get processed and counted in the official total,” Levey said. “At no point do we stop until all of those are counted.”
All mailed ballots, vote-by-mail ballots and provisional ballots really do get processed and counted in the official total. At no point do we stop until all of those are counted.
Merced County Registrar of Voters Barbara Levey
In Los Banos, Merced County Supervisor Jerry O’Banion’s seat wasn’t up for re-election Tuesday, so the spotlight was on the presidential primaries. And despite the early reports of a Hillary Clinton victory over Bernie Sanders, voters said they still came to the polls because their vote was important.
Luis and Carla Coronado voted for different front-runners in the Democratic primary: Luis for Sanders and Carla for Clinton.
“You need to come out and vote,” Carla Coronado said, noting that the important issue for her was standing against presumed Republican candidate Donald Trump. “If you don’t vote now, then you could regret it later.”
Luis Coronado said he voted for Sanders despite the early call of the election to Clinton because he wanted his voice to be heard.
“(Sanders is) way behind, but hopefully he’ll catch up,” Luis Coronado said.
Elpidio Cortez said his vote for Clinton on Tuesday was also a vote against Trump.
“Trump has his wall,” Cortez said. “I don’t want that.”
The middle class is really underrepresented. All three classes need to be addressed. That’s what makes America great.
Leslie Swartwood, 54, who voted in Merced
Tuesday was Cortez’s second time voting for the presidential primaries. But the 23-year-old Los Banos resident said his knowledge about the candidates and election is greater now.
“You have to have your opinion heard,” Cortez said. “You should vote for that person.”
Back in Merced, Michael McLane, 61, said the Democratic race was the most important to him on Election Day. Standing outside the Merced County Administration Building, his presidential vote was tipped off by his red “Labor for Bernie 2016” cap.
“If you’re talking about simply winning the election, I wouldn’t throw in the towel ever,” he said.
Sanders’ stances on issues such as providing a living wage for all workers made him the ideal candidate for McLane. “He’s actually addressing the issues,” he said.
Also outside the Merced County building, Leslie Swartwood played her cards closer to her chest. She declined to say for whom she cast her presidential ballot, but said she was concerned for the middle class, which gets forgotten too often.
Swartwood did say she voted for Merced County District 2 incumbent Hub Walsh. At the forefront of her mind was deciding who was best for strengthening the middle class and providing for children.
“The middle class is really underrepresented,” the 54-year-old said. “All three classes need to be addressed. That’s what makes America great.”