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DECISION 2000 / ORANGE COUNTY

A Brimming Ballot for O.C. Voters

From Brea to San Clemente, there were candidates and issues that citizens in the booth could get excited about.

November 08, 2000|MIKE ANTON and CHRISTINE HANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It was a day when the voting booth overflowed like an all-you-can-eat buffet, so many choices even the most gluttonous political junkies had their fill.

Senate races and House races and Assembly races. Measures on growth, taxes and tobacco settlement money. Propositions dealing with school vouchers, drug users and politicians.

Want bond issues and city council contests? Go ahead, stuff your face. Just leave room for dessert: your choice for president.

That's what most voters in Orange County did Tuesday as they came to the polls in large numbers to help decide the closest presidential election in more than 40 years.

From Brea to San Clemente, voters were interested in local issues and races, but were intensely interested in who would win the White House.

Among the early birds was Dan Ramirez, who voted for Republican George W. Bush before heading to work at a gun store.

"He comes across a lot better all around, pretty much on all the issues," said Ramirez, 45, of Santa Ana. "Besides, he's Texan."

Greg Berg, 42, also backed Bush, but for more specific reasons. An outdoorsman whose livelihood depends on access to open space, he fears the closing of government land to recreational vehicles would continue under Democrat Al Gore.

"I don't think that's right," said Berg, who sells parts to motorcycle and watercraft dealers.

For other voters, the overriding concern was the economy.

"Bill Clinton and Al Gore worked together for eight years and created a lot of jobs," said Javier Martinez, who owns a small business selling construction tools and voted for Gore--his first vote as an American citizen. "Everybody's working," he said.

Antonia Almaduer, 53, agreed. She earns good money, has great benefits and even got a raise after just three months in her new job working with the disabled.

"I'm scared about Bush. I remember when his father was president, and there was not much work," she said. Back then, the best Almaduer could do was a minimum-wage job cleaning tables at the Fashion Island food court.

In Westminster, turnout was just as brisk and opinions as mixed at the Royal Gardens Mobile Home Estate, where more than 100 of the precinct's 990 registered voters cast ballots at poolside booths by 10 a.m.

Kermit Roberts voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.

"He is talking my kind of talk," the 58-year-old said. "The planet has deep problems, and we have to look at them on a realistic level. Just looking at the situation from the corporate end isn't working."

Walter Jones, 56, a retired Realtor, went with Bush because he believes the federal government is trampling on the rights of states.

In Newport Beach, slow-growth Measure S was contentious enough to compete with the presidential candidates for voters' attention.

"It's an opportunity for people in this community to make a statement about the quality of life here," said Janice Nikula, 46. "This is an opportunity for people to say 'Stop!' "

Others questioned the wisdom of requiring voter approval of any development that would significantly increase traffic and density.

"I don't think this is a way to govern," said Gloria Moore, 55, who voted against the measure. "I see people moving in and building these big houses, and now they don't want anyone else to. It's hypocritical."

Yet while local issues filled most of the ballot in Orange County, it was the top-line race that drew many voters out.

At Monroe Elementary School in Santa Ana, more than 60% of the precinct's voters had come and gone by 9 a.m. "It usually takes until 2 o'clock to fill 50 of the ballots here," precinct official Jessie Mejia said.

It also was busier than usual at the Golden Creek Inn, an assisted living complex in Irvine. By midday, nearly a third of the precinct's registered voters--including many of the home's elderly residents--had cast ballots.

"We had two people faint," said election official Joan Smith. "One fell out of the booth, but we caught her."

Bart Broadnax, 45, had education on his mind. He voted for his local school bond issue and against Proposition 38, which would offer parents a $4,000 voucher to send their child to private school.

"I'm very much pro-public school," Broadnax said. "Vouchers would put money in the hands of people who don't need it. If people want to send their kids to a private school, they should pay for it."

In rural Modjeska Canyon, tucked in the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest, voting was one of the activities going on at the community center. Loud reunions in front of the "Quiet Please" sign were another.

Any community event, be it an election or a potluck for volunteer firefighters, is likely to draw a crowd of often heavily bearded men and denim-clad women.

"One of my best girlfriends is a totally left-wing, liberal, Greenpeace radical," said Renee LeClaire, a 50-year-old GOP gun enthusiast. "We're such an interesting cross-section out here."

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