Votes tallied after Tuesday’s recall election favor Linda Santos keeping her Oakdale Irrigation District seat, but the final outcome remains too close to call because several dozen ballots have yet to be counted.
“No” votes against the recall amounted to nearly 56 percent after the first tally late Tuesday. But Santos’ lead translates to only 58 votes, and elections officials on Wednesday had 83 ballots yet to count, with others possibly still rolling in.
When might a final count be announced? It’s complicated, but the short answer: Wednesday at the latest, but maybe as soon as Friday.
Hanging in the balance is control over the deeply divided OID board.
421 Absentee votes received in the mail, or 84 percent of the total cast
78 Votes cast Tuesday at Oakdale’s sole polling station
If Santos prevails, the other half of Tuesday’s ballot – choosing her successor – would become moot. If she is recalled, Nate Ludlow – the only candidate to sign up – would take her spot representing Division 4, mostly southeast of Oakdale.
Because Ludlow is aligned with the current board majority, his ascension would ensure that the old guard stays in power even after Gary Osmundson gives up his seat when he changes homes, as expected, in a few weeks.
A Santos win would neutralize the board’s power struggle, as she and political ally Gail Altieri would be able to match votes with Steve Webb and Herman Doornenbal once Osmundson moves out of Division 5. The power stalemate likely would continue until the November ballot, when Osmundson’s successor will be chosen; Webb and Doornenbal also are up then for re-election.
For now, everything hinges on whether Santos maintains her edge in the vote tally. And it’s not as easy as simply counting those 83 unprocessed ballots, because others must be accepted also if they arrive in the mail through Friday.
A breakdown of the 83: 59 are absentee ballots people dropped off Tuesday at a polling place instead of mailing; 11 arrived in the mail Wednesday; and 13 are provisional ballots, mostly requested by people who signed up to vote by mail but who lost their ballots and requested new ones. Also, another state law says absentee voters who neglect to sign the outside of their envelopes have eight days, or until Wednesday, to visit the elections office and provide a signature. One person in Oakdale fits this category.
The elections office won’t provide piecemeal updates, Stanislaus County Clerk Recorder Lee Lundrigan said, so final results might wait until Wednesday.
Santos said she remains hopeful. She attributed her lead to “not playing politics and keeping the welfare of our district in perspective, above anything else. The long-term health of our district and the prosperity of people in our community are more important than anything.”
433 Votes cast when Linda Santos was elected in November 2015
Santos and Altieri, campaigning on transparency platforms in 2015, ousted longtime board members Al Bairos and Frank Clark but soon found themselves on the losing end of frequent 3-2 board votes. The board majority last summer sued to keep Santos and Altieri out of some closed-door board meetings, but a judge in October let them back in.
Those pushing the recall said Santos favors friends rather than constituents, and they blamed her for board turmoil. She said she was targeted because she challenges the status quo with probing questions and insists that OID be accountable to the public.
Both sides put up signs and campaigned ferociously on social media.
A pro-recall committee had raised $17,600 as of April 8 and sent fliers attacking Santos to voters. Ludlow raised $6,500, sponsored floats in the Oakdale Rodeo parade and urged people to vote “yes” on the recall, “to give Linda Santos the boot.”
She did not raise money but walked precincts and urged people to call her to discuss issues. “Personal contact – knocking on doors and actually meeting people and talking to them made a big difference,” she said.
Santos’ supporters said some people were tricked into signing petitions to qualify the recall for election. At one point, the board majority voted to investigate fraud allegations, then reversed itself three days later.
The election was affected by the failure of board members – before Santos and Altieri were elected – to resize voting divisions, a process called redistricting that’s required by state and federal law, landing OID in hot water with the Stanislaus Civil Grand Jury. If the district had complied after the 2000 and 2010 censuses, petitioners would have had to gather twice the number of signatures to force a vote in Division 4.
1,819 Registered voters in OID Division 4
499 Votes cast Tuesday, or 27.4 percent turnout
Tuesday’s turnout amounts to a little more than 27 percent of the 1,819 registered voters in Division 4.
Osmundson is building a home in Division 4 and has said he’ll consider running against Santos or Ludlow when the term expires in 2019.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390