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California Elections : Prop. 187, Heated Races Boost Voter Turnout in State : Total is expected to reach projected 60.2% of those registered. In L.A. County, 53.46% turned out, compared to 52.87% in 1990.


Rising above the nasty weather and the even nastier campaign season, Californians flocked to the polls Tuesday--inspired by Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration ballot measure, the heated governor's race and an abiding anger at politics and campaign spending gone awry.

"I, like everyone, am upset that the campaigns this year were terribly negative and totally glazed over the real issues," said Rich Foster, 30, of Thousand Oaks. "I had to avoid TV and force myself to read up on the candidates to have any idea where they really stood."

Acting Secretary of State Tony Miller predicted before the election that 60.2% of registered voters would go to the polls Tuesday, a day marked by intermittent rainfall and continuing nonviolent protests of Proposition 187, this year's electoral lightning rod.

By the time polls closed at 8 p.m., 53.46% of voters in Los Angeles County had cast ballots, compared to the 52.87% who voted in 1990. Statewide turnout should hit the predicted 60.2%, said Caren Daniels-Meade, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. "We expect to beat both 1990 and 1986," Daniels-Meade said, and far exceed the June primary turnout of 37%--a historic low.

Near a polling place at Van Nuys High School, a small group of students opposing Proposition 187 walked through the neighborhood without incident. As voters streamed into Oxnard's All Saints Episcopal Church, an anti-Proposition 187 march began at Oxnard High School a few blocks away. About 50 students from San Fernando High School gathered near voting booths at Paxton Park in Pacoima before walking back to classes.

Few voters said the student protests affected their decision on the controversial measure, which would bar illegal immigrants from public schools and non-emergency medical care. But after a barrage of television ads that often distorted issues and candidates, some indicated a measure of confusion.

John Pereira, 67, of Pacoima said he voted against Proposition 187 because he was upset at the students who left their schools to protest. When told that the students were opposed to the measure, he looked perplexed, shrugged his shoulders and said, "I guess I messed up."

In fact, 32% of the voters interviewed by The Times exit poll at 85 precincts statewide said the tight race on Proposition 187 was the main event at the voting booth--no matter how they voted.

From Boyle Heights to Temple-Beaudry, home to some of the city's largest immigrant neighborhoods, scores of voters cast their ballots Tuesday morning as precinct workers reported above-average turnouts.

The voters included recently naturalized citizens, those who had not cast ballots in years and others whose skepticism of politics had long since soured them on the electoral process. And some called the initiative mean-spirited, racist and divisive.

"187 is the main reason I am here," Yolanda Garcia said in Spanish as she walked into Jovanna's Beauty Shop in Boyle Heights shortly after the polls opened at 7 a.m. Suffering from asthma, she braved the rain to walk five blocks and cast her vote against the measure and its chief proponent, Gov. Pete Wilson. "This is a special day. I am sick, but I came to vote against racism," Garcia said.

But sentiments ran just as high Tuesday in the pro-Proposition 187 camp.

"I think we are getting too many illegals and the taxpayers can't take care of them," said 80-year-old Vera Bedell of San Clemente. In Lake Forest, Ray Chaplain and his wife, Nannette, echoed a similar belief.

"It's a protest vote," 51-year-old Ray Chaplain said of his "yes" vote for the initiative. "I feel like I have to send a message to somebody that enough is enough. Normally, I wouldn't vote because I'm so disgusted by these idiots (candidates)."

In Leimert Park, part of the Crenshaw district, Museum In Black owner Brian Breye said he had a high turnout in his African art shop turned polling place, despite the morning rain. John Walker, casting his vote at the museum, said Proposition 187 brought him to the polls. "I think it's not fair that others come into California and get benefits," Walker said.

Voter turnout was up from 1990 and 1986--the last two governor's races and midterm congressional elections because of Proposition 187 and increased voter registration efforts by Democrats and Republicans alike, said Bruce Cain, professor of political science at UC Berkeley.

In addition, the state was home to at least one novel experiment--weekend voting in a few selected counties. Absentee ballots are at an all-time high, with the secretary of state's office saying that absentee voters could account for a record 25% of the electorate this year.

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