Local Politics

Saturday, May 18 2013 06:00 PM

First of two special elections hits Tuesday

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Tuesday is Election Day in the sprawling 16th Senate District and for thousands of local voters, it's the first of two and possibly three times they'll get to head to the polls in just a matter of months -- creating some confusion.

Five names are on Tuesday's ballot to replace Michael Rubio, who quit in February citing a need to spend more time with family.

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HOW TO VOTE

Here's what you need to know before heading out to the polls Tuesday:

What's on the ballot?

Only the 16th Senate District race to replace Michael Rubio.

Am I eligible to vote in this election?

Those eligible were sent a sample ballot (unless they opted out of receiving one) or a vote-by-mail ballot packet (for those who vote by mail). Also, you can look up your voting districts at elections.co.kern.ca.us/elections.

When can I vote?

Polls are open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday.

Where do I go?

Your polling site is listed on the back of the sample ballot mailed to you. You also can find yours online at Elections.co.kern.ca.us using the "Your polling place" link or by calling Kern County elections at 868-3590 or 800-452-8683.

When's the best time to go to the polls?

Officials recommend mid-morning or mid-afternoon to avoid long lines that usually form before and after work times, and at lunchtime.

Just two weeks after that, on June 4, voters living in Bakersfield's Ward 1 will vote to replace Rudy Salas on the city council. Salas was elected to the state Assembly last November.

That means voters who live where the 16th District and Ward 1 overlap will get to vote twice in two weeks. And if nobody gets a majority of the vote Tuesday, a state Senate runoff will be held July 23.

Why couldn't the state Senate and city council races be combined onto one ballot? J.N. Wiedeman of Bakersfield recently asked The Californian that.

Kern County elections chief Karen Rhea, whose staff will run Tuesday's election then retool for the city council one, said it was impossible to consolidate the contests.

The deadline to move the council election to a different date passed on the same day Gov. Jerry Brown announced the state Senate primary and general election dates.

There wasn't enough time -- the announcement came just hours before the end of that Friday -- to merge the races, Rhea said.

State law controls when the governor can set a special election and is extremely precise about when its primary can be held, she said. It must be held nine Tuesdays before the special general election.

Of the 15,904 currently registered voters in the city's Ward 1, 14,454 live within the 16th Senate District boundaries being used for this election and are eligible to vote in both races, according to Sarah Webb, Kern County elections systems coordinator.

Registration has not closed for the Ward 1 election, so those numbers might change before county elections finalizes the files.

The voters who live in Ward 1 but not in the 16th District are concentrated south of Panama Lane on both sides of Union Avenue, Webb said.

The parallel election cycles has confused a number of voters about what district they live in and whether they have to pay attention to the avalanche of advertising hitting television sets and radio waves.

"We're getting calls from people who are seeing the ads and are wondering why they haven't gotten a ballot," Rhea said.

SENATE

The 16th Senate District starts in part of the Alta Vista neighborhood of Bakersfield, scoops up most of southeast Bakersfield, sweeps south through Arvin and Lamont, west around Taft and then north along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, grabbing Shafter, Delano and McFarland before moving into Kings and Tulare counties and up to the outskirts of Fresno.

It is predominately Latino and Democratic. But Republicans have snatched Assembly seats from the Democrats on the same ground.

More than $2 million in campaign cash and independent expenditures has been poured into the race from unions, political parties and corporations in just more than two months.

Rubio's surprise resignation turned the safe Democratic seat into a toss-up prize. The two major political teams launched their best players from thin benches at the seat.

Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, with just a few scant months in her first elected office, is the Democratic Party's pick.

Hanford cherry farmer Andy Vidak, whose main claim to political fame was giving Jim Costa a tough time getting re-elected to Congress in 2010, is the Republican Party's pick.

Mohammad Arif, Paulina Miranda and Francisco Ramirez, who have little money and no party backing, also joined the race.

Polite political advertisements about education and water quickly gave way to subtle rhetorical jabs, then outright attacks.

TOSSUP

Perez's campaign, which has collected about $1.3 million in campaign cash and benefitted from another $500,000 or so in independent expenditures from outside groups supporting her, has turned out a respectable number of vote-by-mail ballots.

But her campaign needs, observers say, to repeat the feat on Tuesday with Democratic voters who are generally less reliable to get to the polls.

Vidak's campaign, which has brought in markedly less money than Perez's -- though late contributions last week and this week have boosted his cash collection to more than $800,000 -- also plans to field a serious Election Day effort to get Republican voters to the ballot box.

Vidak's only chance of winning the overall contest, said political analyst Allan Hoffenblum of the California Target Book, which watches state races, is to win outright Tuesday by capturing more than 50 percent of the vote.

That won't be easy with five candidates if the Democrats can also turn out a large number of voters. He believes Perez would win a head-to-head race with Vidak.

Whatever the outcome, Tuesday is likely to be a tense ride for both campaigns, which were gearing up to hit the streets this weekend and through Tuesday.

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