Returns for elections in the Santa Margarita Water District and the Los Alisos Water District were incomplete Tuesday night because both districts fall under an antiquated voting system in which ballots must be counted by hand.
But partial results in the Los Alisos district, which serves a population of 40,000 in the Lake Forest area, showed challengers Rod Jewell and Preston Bishop ahead of incumbent Harry C. Johnson in a race for two seats.
The districts are the last in the county where votes are based on assessed property value. Under new legislation that takes effect next year, the "one-man, one-vote" system will apply.
Donald Tanney, the county's registrar of voters, said ballots cast in the two district elections were not expected to be counted until late Tuesday or early this morning. Because votes are based on the total assessed dollar value of land in the district, they are more cumbersome to tabulate, he said.
Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) directed the new legislation at the Santa Margarita Water District after reports in The Times that its two top managers spent lavishly on themselves with district money and accepted thousands of dollars worth of gifts from companies they recommended for multimillion-dollar contracts.
The Los Alisos Water District was also converted to a "one-man, one-vote" system, although Conroy said he found no problems in that district.
After newspaper accounts appeared, Conroy blasted the Santa Margarita Water District's voting mechanism and called it the "South Africa" of water boards.
Even South Africa has moved away from its apartheid system, Conroy said, adding "if it's good enough for South Africa, it's good enough for the Santa Margarita Water District."
The Santa Margarita Water District serves more than 84,000 people in the areas of Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, Coto de Caza and unincorporated areas of the county.
Conroy said the present system makes board members more accountable to major landowners than to the district's ratepayers. Because the law did not affect Tuesday's elections, Conroy said he would urge landowners to cast their votes for an entirely new board.
The law requires all five board members to run for reelection next year.
This year, a record eight challengers ran against three incumbents for four seats on the Santa Margarita Water District board. A fourth incumbent, Richard F. Boultinghouse, resigned from the board last Friday, but his name still appeared on ballots distributed to homeowners.
Boultinghouse had been on the board since 1980 but had to resign, he said, because he had sold his property in the district.
Besides Boultinghouse, the incumbents were William F. Krasho, Jim Neidert and Sean Barrett.
Barrett did not join the board until after the controversy surfaced at the district.
The challengers were Brent R. Beasley, Richard William Hintz, Bob Lay, Jim Mizell, Jim Holmes, Betty K. Olson, Bill Wachal and Roger A. Johnson.