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THE SPECIAL ELECTION

Light Turnout Seen in Inland Voting

In San Bernardino and Riverside, mayors' contests have early front-runners, but a runoff is still possible in at least one race.

November 09, 2005|Susannah Rosenblatt and Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writers

Despite two major mayoral races and a handful of controversial ballot measures, elections officials in Riverside and San Bernardino counties expected voter turnout Tuesday to be very light.

In the Inland Empire's two largest cities, Riverside and San Bernardino, the races for mayor had clear front-runners in early returns, but at least one contest may be forced into a runoff election.

Voters in Redlands were forced to decide two politically charged initiatives: one to restore the cross to the city's seal, and another to control development in the university town. The fate of both measures was unclear in early balloting.

Many of the critical races in the two rapidly growing counties could be decided by slim margins, because elections officials in both counties predicted that few voters would venture to the polls.

"It's a pretty light election," said Barbara Dunmore, Riverside County registrar of voters. "It's not a regularly scheduled election, so of course it's going to be a much lighter turnout than a presidential election."

In Riverside County, more than 107,000 voters cast absentee ballots or voted early, according to county officials; nearly 229,000 absentee ballots were issued. Registration countywide is up slightly this year, from 773,125 to 776,962. Last year's turnout countywide was 73%.

In San Bernardino County, 42% of the nearly 178,000 absentee ballots were cast, and another 1,200 people had voted by Monday, said Kari Verjil, San Bernardino County registrar of voters.

The county has 753,616 registered voters. In the November 2004 election, 72% of 737,559 registered voters cast ballots.

Both counties use electronic voting systems, and reported few problems.

In San Bernardino, the five-candidate mayor's race was marked by bickering between Pat Morris, who is a Superior Court Judge, and longtime City Atty. James F. Penman -- the two who raised the most campaign money.

Mayor Judith Valles and several council members backed Morris, who was edging Penman in early returns. But the race remained tight enough that a runoff election was possible.

"Mr. Penman coordinated an ugly and negative campaign against me," Morris said. "We've had 18 years of negative politics, and the voters are ready for change."

Also vying for the post Valles is vacating after two terms were Councilman Chas A. Kelley, contractor Rick Avila and Michael Ellison-Lewis, a former staff member for Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto).

In Riverside, three-term incumbent Mayor Ron Loveridge was leading Councilman Ameal Moore and former mayor Terry Frizzel in absentee ballots and early returns. "The absentee votes are a pretty good marker of what's going to happen," Loveridge said from his traditional election night gathering of friends at home, describing this year's race as "quiet."

Loveridge had touted Riverside's rosy economic picture, and pledged to lower crime, while Moore criticized Loveridge for never having used his mayoral veto and supporting the dismissal of a former city manager.

Real estate agent Frizzel, the former mayor and city councilwoman, campaigned for greater transparency in government and against the excessive use of eminent domain.

Voters in Blythe appeared to favor Measure I in early balloting, a new $32-per-parcel tax to help keep the community hospital open. The measure requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

Supporters of Measure I hoped a new property tax would help raise the $5 million needed to transfer Palo Verde Hospital from corporate control into local hands.

Local leaders and some residents had reservations about whether the measure was the best solution to save the hospital, the only acute-care center for 100 miles.

In Norco, Measure G appeared headed toward approval. The amendment to the city charter would require a four-fifths City Council vote to rezone agricultural, hillside or low-density areas. .

In Redlands, voters appeared to be rejecting a slow-growth measure that would stall development.

Supporters championed it as a way to safeguard the city's downtown, canyons and citrus heritage from developers, but business leaders argued it was too extreme and said it would force Redlands to enact new taxes or cut city services.

A controversial measure to restore the cross to Redland's city seal was still too close to call in early returns Tuesday.

The ACLU of Southern California had told Redlands officials last year to eliminate the seal's cross or face a lawsuit, and the city concealed the crosses on city vehicles and business cards.

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