Recall election of Los Banos school trustee too close to call

Voter turnout was low and split almost in half Tuesday for the effort to recall John Mueller as a trustee for the Los Banos Unfied School District, according to unofficial election results.

As of noon Wednesday, just six votes separated Mueller from his challenger, Ray Martinez. The vote stood at 166 to 160 slightly in favor of removing Mueller as the 7th District’s school board trustee.

One voter didn’t select an answer, election officials said.

The results aren’t official and don’t include votes postmarked by Tuesday but not yet received by the Merced County Elections Office, which will be updating the vote count as ballots arrive. The Elections Office will accept those ballots through Friday.

They also don’t include eight votes that need proper signatures, Registrar of Voters Barbara Levey said. Those voters have been contacted by the Elections Office and have been asked to come in to sign their ballots.

Those extra ballots could decide the outcome.

They have until Wednesday, Aug. 31, to either mail back a signature or submit it to the Elections Office in Room 14 of 2222 M St., Merced.

Assistant Registrar of Voters David Sullivan said the Elections Office wants to certify the results as soon as possible. But the latest the certification would occur is by Sept. 1.

If the current result stands when election results are certified, with slightly more than 50 percent of voters in favor of the recall, residents will have voted out Mueller, according to the Elections Office.

A second question on the ballot asked who should take Mueller’s place if he is recalled. The only candidate on the ballot is Martinez.

Levey said Mueller has the option to call for a recount if preliminary results hold. Elections Office started official canvassing of one of the polling locations Wednesday.

Mueller said Tuesday he wasn’t personally keeping track of election results.

“I didn’t change my schedule, not a bit,” he said. “My schedule and life doesn’t change around a recall.”

Mueller has previously called the recall election a waste of taxpayer money. Election officials have estimated the recall could cost the school district between $12,000 and $18,000.

After being told of the latest update, Mueller said he would wait for the final outcome of the recall election before making a statement.

Baldo Salcido, a resident who initiated the recall efforts, said he expected more people to show up at the election booths.

“We’re disappointed in the voter turnout,” Salcido said Tuesday night. “It’s extremely low.”

Voter turnout was at 16.9 percent of the 1,935 registered voters in the 7th District. That percentage will grow as more votes are counted.

Salcido initiated the recall on several points, saying Mueller failed to listen to his constituents and has been part of a board that has produced poor student test scores.

Mueller has fought back, stating that his contact information has always been available for people to contact him and defending his record on the board.

Salcido said the initial results indicate that even if Mueller survives the recall effort, he won’t have a strong mandate.

“You have to be responsible to your constituents; that’s what this whole election is about,” said Salcido, who pushed the recall along with the Community Advocacy Coalition, a local civil rights group.

Martinez agreed with Salcido.

“We’re still hopeful to be victorious,” Martinez said. “It’s a very low turnout on both sides. … But regardless, we still see this (election) as a victory to make major changes.”

Martinez is a retired captain of the Santa Clara Fire Department. He unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2014. He is also a founding member of Community Advocacy Coalition, the organization that spurred the recall efforts.

Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562