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Record Turnout Expected at the Polls Today


Record numbers of Ventura County voters are expected to go to the polls today to cast ballots for a full slate of candidates, including a new president. But election officials cautioned that some winners may not be determined for days, because 10% of the total vote will come from late-arriving absentee ballots.

Perhaps the highest-profile local race is one to decide whether a Ventura hospital's $2.3-million Measure O campaign is an audacious grab for $260 million in public money or a move to safeguard health-care dollars from politicians.

Also on the ballot are a host of races with unprecedented price tags for Congress, state Senate, Assembly, county supervisor, city council and school board.

Voters in the Santa Clara Valley--the region's last pure farm preserve--will also weigh in on ballot measures meant to save farmland and open space.

Election officials predict about 310,000 local voters will turn out, far more than the record of 276,000, set in 1992. That would represent 80% of registered voters, the highest percentage since 82% cast ballots in the Ronald Reagan-Jimmy Carter race two decades ago.

Polls will be open at 7 a.m. at 432 locations around the county and close at 8 p.m.

About 48,000 of the 94,000 absentee ballots were cast by Monday and will be counted today. But officials expect that--with a projected 85% return of such ballots--31,000 will be cast at the polls or mailed back to the elections division today.

And that means that determining a winner in close races may have to wait for days as clerks dig out from an avalanche of late-arriving ballots.

"It will be at least until Saturday or early next week before we're done," said county elections chief Bruce Bradley. "So any close races will be delayed, and that's going to be the case throughout California."

Bradley said he's hoping there are no close local races. "But that's wishful thinking," he said. "I think there will be a lot of close races."

Absentee balloting has climbed steadily since 1976, creating the potential for close races to deadlock awaiting absentee results.

Two years ago, absentee ballots flooded the elections office at the last minute, making it impossible to call the race between now-Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) and Somis teacher Roz McGrath until 16,000 absentee ballots were counted from the 37th Assembly District.

Strickland's lead expanded from 346 votes on election night to about 1,300 by the next Friday, when the absentees were fully counted.

This year, in view of nearly $2 million in campaign spending, Bradley thinks that rematch will be close again.

The Measure O initiative may be a nail biter too, he said. The measure, sponsored by Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, would wrest a tobacco lawsuit settlement of $10 million a year for 25 years away from Ventura County government and give it to private hospitals, doctors and other health groups.

Another race that may be affected by absentee ballot results is between educator and slow-growth advocate Steve Bennett and pro-business Ventura Councilman Jim Monahan to see who will replace retiring Supervisor Susan Lacey in the 1st District, Bradley said.

He also expects the rematch between 3rd District Supervisor Kathy Long and Camarillo Councilman Mike Morgan to be tight.

Also near the top of the local ballot is the race between first-term Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who has waged a $1-million campaign, and underfunded Republican Robin Sullivan, a Santa Paula councilwoman.

Seven-term Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) faces his first serious challenge since 1992 from Ventura County Bar Assn. President Michael Case, a Ventura Democrat who has run an aggressive race but trails well behind Gallegly in campaign spending.

In a congressional district that includes Thousand Oaks, two-term Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is trying to parlay his environmental record into a third term, while Republican challenger Jerry Doyle, a TV actor, is waging an uphill campaign with little money.

In a race to replace retiring state Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley), Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) has run a costly campaign against Simi Valley Democrat Daniel Gonzalez, who has raised little money.

To decide who will replace McClintock in the 38th Assembly District, which includes part of Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley, Republican physician Keith Richman is facing Democrat Jon Lauritzen.

Council races in nine local cities also offer an array of political views and choices among about 50 candidates. Consider the high-profile campaign in Thousand Oaks, where free-spending consumer lawyer Ed Masry, the real-life boss of movie subject Erin Brockovich, is one of seven candidates.

Mayoral elections lead the municipal ballots in Simi Valley and Moorpark, where incumbents are seeking new terms. Four-term Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez is unopposed.

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