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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

These Voting Margins Squeak

In some races, one or two ballots can make the difference. Those in question are sweating out the next few weeks until results are final.

November 10, 2005|Ashley Powers and Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writers

One voter who made a last-minute dash to the polls may have doomed Laura Dyberg.

The candidate in Arrowbear Lake -- a small town in the San Bernardino Mountains where campaigning usually consists of reminding neighbors to vote -- has served on the local water board for a decade. On Wednesday, she awoke to find that her 78 votes probably weren't enough to keep her seat: Challenger Kent W. Jenkins had tallied 79.

"You wonder who had a late dinner last night instead of voting," joked Dyberg, who works for the San Bernardino National Forest Assn., a nonprofit group that works to preserve forest resources.

The Arrowbear Park County Water District election was one of several in San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Riverside counties that illustrated the every-vote-counts mantra.

With one- or two-vote margins of victory -- or defeat -- candidates in Cabazon, Acton, Compton and Yucca Valley are sweating out the next few weeks. The results may flip-flop as tens of thousands of absentee and provisional ballots are counted and election results are certified.

The razor-thin margins are rare, but they tend to happen in small voting districts where races for two or three seats are mobbed with candidates, elections officials said. Up to five days after vote totals are certified, recounts can be requested, at the petitioner's expense.

After the November 2004 election, officials recounted votes for Indio City Council and the Hemet Unified School District board, which had to wait a month before finding out that one of its trustees was ousted. And a Barstow City Council seat was decided by 13 votes, a margin that had kept fluctuating.

On Tuesday, a nail-biter gripped Yucca Valley, where Wade H. White nabbed 1,486 votes, two more than the closest challenger in the race for Hi-Desert Water District, which serves about 10,000 customers.

"I was surprised at how many votes I got, frankly, because I did no signs and I didn't kiss babies. It is rather close, isn't it?" said White, a retired aerospace engineer.

Ron Bird, a retired software engineer running for one of three seats on the school board in Acton, near Palmdale, kept vigil until 3 a.m. Wednesday. The next morning, he clung to the seat with 998 votes, also a two-vote advantage.

"It could reverse," said Bird, who ranked third out of 10 candidates. "I'm competitive, like most people, so when you enter a race, you enter it to win."

The closest challenger, Deborah Rocha, was betting the gap would close, and chuckled at the fragile margin.

"It was a really good lesson in civics right here at home," the sixth-grade teacher said.

The top two finishers for a seat on the Compton Community College District board, the incumbent and a student, were three votes apart early Wednesday: Carl E. Robinson Sr. won 26.60% of the ballots, and PJ Johnson got 26.65%. The problem-plagued school of the same name lost its accreditation in August.

The desert town of Cabazon saw its mud-splattered race for three water district seats end in a fittingly dramatic fashion. Former Beverly Hills developer Jack Charles Pryor, who came in fourth of five candidates, blamed his one-vote defeat on "letters sent out telling lies" that he was trying to siphon water for his 38-home project.

"That played a part in swaying the population who didn't know me well," grumbled Pryor, who drew 127 votes. The top vote-getter gained only 30 more.

In Arrowbear Lake, Dyberg tried to rally folks with fliers and phone calls but wasn't too worried because she'd never bumped into Jenkins.

"In a community of 700, you think everybody knows you," she said.

Jenkins knew that one buddy's wife had cast an eleventh-hour ballot but didn't think much of it until results trickled in. That vote could cement a four-year term overseeing the water supply for 1,000 customers.

The story of Dyberg's election day, however, doesn't end on a downer. She also ran for a Rim of the World parks district seat, which she has all but clenched with a comfy 758-vote margin.

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