The battle over six state budget propositions on today's ballot sputtered to a close Monday with a burst of low-profile campaigning that belied the gravity of California's fiscal crisis.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose legacy will be shaped in part by the election's results, made a final pitch to voters before leaving the state ahead of the results. The governor is scheduled to join President Obama at the White House today for an announcement on auto emission rules. His absence in the face of widely forecast defeat drew mockery from his foes.
Tonight's results will gauge what polls suggest is voter fury over the failure of the Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature to balance the state's books.
As Californians struggle with joblessness, home foreclosures and sharp losses in the stock market, the state has raised taxes, cut spending and borrowed to fix a $42-billion shortfall -- and still remains more than $15 billion shy of a balanced budget.
If voters reject Propositions 1C, 1D and 1E -- the three chief money-raisers on Tuesday's special election ballot -- the shortfall will grow to $21 billion.
Despite the high stakes, voter turnout is expected to be sparse for an election that also includes a fiercely contested runoff for Los Angeles city attorney and races to fill vacancies in the 32nd Congressional and 26th state Senate districts.
As of Monday afternoon, nearly 2.4 million of California's 17.2 million registered voters had cast ballots by mail, election officials said. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
In the city of Industry on Monday, Schwarzenegger told a crowd that if the budget measures fail, the state will cut at least $6 billion in spending on schools, healthcare and prisons, among other things.
"We hope the initiatives pass, and if they don't, we will do what is the wishes of the people," he said.
In San Jose, he conceded the outlook for passage was bleak, but said he hoped that "something will break" today. "You've always got to be an optimist when you're in this business," said Schwarzenegger, who cast an emergency absentee ballot that an aide picked up at an election office Monday.
Lacking a public face as prominent as the governor's, opponents relied mainly on talk radio and the Internet to wind down their low-cost drive to kill the measures.
Highlighting the public's scant interest in the election, protests against the ballot measures Monday in Los Angeles and San Diego drew only a few dozen demonstrators apiece. At the East Los Angeles Civic Center, a small group of children held "No on 1D" signs.
A similar measure, Proposition 1E, would free up money set aside for mental health services.
The most contentious campaigning has been over Propositions 1A and 1B, also the main focus of TV advertising. Proposition 1A would impose a cap on state spending, buttress the state's rainy day fund and extend recently passed tax increases for up to two years. Proposition 1B, which would take effect only if 1A passes, would restore school cuts.
But the big-money measure is 1C, which would enable the state to borrow $5 billion against future lottery revenues to balance the current budget. It would also revamp California's lottery in ways that supporters say would increase the state's earnings.
The only measure that has proved popular in polls is Proposition 1F, which would deny pay raises to state elected officials when California is running a deficit.
On the campaign's final day, three Republicans vying for the party's nomination to replace Schwarzenegger used the ballot measures to jockey for advantage while the main Democratic contenders largely ignored today's election.
Two of the Republicans, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former Rep. Tom Campbell, clashed over Proposition 1A at a Sacramento debate. Campbell called it a wise move, while Poizner described it as a threat to California's economy.
A third Republican candidate for governor, former EBay chief executive Meg Whitman, criticized Proposition 1A in radio and TV interviews and called for laying off up to 40,000 state workers.
In Los Angeles, rivals Carmen Trutanich and Jack Weiss toned down their brutal contest for city attorney on the eve of the runoff. After weeks of running caustic TV attack ads, Trutanich and Weiss each concluded the race with spots touting their own credentials.
Finnegan reported from Los Angeles, Rothfeld reported from Sacramento. Times staff writers Raja Abdulrahim, Eric Bailey, Maeve Reston and Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.
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Poll locations, results
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today.
Locations can be found on the back of the sample ballot mailed to voters, on the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's website, www.lavote.net, or by calling (800) 815-2666. That number also can be used to report problems at polling places.
Orange County voters can call (714) 567-7600 or check the registrar's website, www.ocvote.com.
Voters can get updates on the statewide propositions by signing up on the micro-blogging website twitter.com/ CASOSvote.
For Los Angeles County races, go to twitter.com/lacountyrrcc or click on the Twitter icon on the county's website.
Orange County voters can sign up at twitter.com/ocregistrar, or by going to www.ocvote.com and clicking on the Twitter icon.
After the polls close, election results can be found on the Los Angeles County website and on the California secretary of state's website, www.sos.ca.gov.
For complete election coverage, go to latimes.com/may19 and latimes.com/electioncentral.