LIVINGSTON -- New leadership is coming to City Hall, and it's arriving in a landslide.
The recall election of Mayor Daniel Varela Sr. and Councilwoman Martha Nateras was successful Tuesday, as 76.77 percent voted to recall Varela and 76.98 percent voted to recall Nateras, not counting provisional ballots.
The turnout at the polls was high, with 32.08 percent of registered voters casting their votes, not counting provisional ballots, said Karen Adams, Merced County clerk, treasurer and tax collector.
More than 90 percent of voters chose Councilman Rodrigo Espinoza to replace Varela as mayor, and an equally high percent chose Theresa Land, an instructional aide, to replace Nateras.
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Once the mayor- and councilwoman-elect take their positions, one seat will be left unfilled until the November election.
Tuesday's vote will need to be certified before the two can take their positions, which could take a few weeks.
The landslide vote served as a statement about how the community felt about Varela and Nateras, Espinoza said. He's excited for the opportunity to meet with the council as mayor to discuss prominent city issues, including the catalyst of the recall -- water and wastewater rates.
"We have to get together and work it out to see what to do with the water rates," he said.
Varela offered his congratulations, but still has questions about how Espinoza and his supporters will lower water rates.
"Hopefully, they'll be able to deliver the plan they haven't been able to talk about," Varela said. "The fight has just started."
As with past Livingston elections, some ethical concerns were raised at the polls, but immediately dealt with.
Poll officials witnessed four people on separate instances acting "suspiciously" around the polls, said Tony Sutter, an election official. As soon as he confronted them, they left.
Electioneering within 100 feet of a poll location is a misdemeanor offense.
Sutter did contact the police department about the incidents, he said.
After confronting the individuals, the rest of the day went smoothly, Sutter added.
"We caught it way ahead of time," he said. "I think the ones that were electioneering got the message that somebody's here today -- the message spread quickly."
The county made a point of ensuring a fair, safe election, Sutter said.
"A lot of changes have come because of Karen Adams," he explained. "She's made a lot of positive changes, and I'm happy to be a part of it."
Two supporters of the "No! On the Recall" campaign were actively encouraging people to vote against the recall on the corner of F and Main streets, but were far away from the two polling locations.
Gilbert Reyes stood at the intersection with a sign and an electronic megaphone encouraging people to vote against the recall.
"With this committee, we are obeying every rule, state or federal, to stay away from the polling area," he said. "There are still honest people in this town."
Reyes thinks Varela and Nateras have acted professionally while in office, despite being "thrown into a hornet's nest."
Myra Bettencourt, a committee member, stood across the street from Reyes, also holding a large sign encouraging people to vote against the recall.
"We got a lot of thumbs-up," she said.
The excitement of Livingston elections is far from over.
Varela has already filed his paperwork to run for mayor again in November, and former mayor Gurpal Samra, a supporter of the recall, has also filed to run in the same election for City Council.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.