Across county, thousands of mail-in, provisional ballots
yet to be counted as Ojai awaits final word on close races
By Misty Volaski
The polls may be closed, but in many races across Ventura County, the results are still wide open. And Ojai is no different.
Tuesday’s midterm election brought several clear winners for the Ojai Valley, such as Mary Bergen for Casitas Municipal Water District, who took a convincing 50.88 percent of the votes over Bob McDonald (29.1 percent) and John Drury (19.05 percent).
But other races, like City Council and Ojai Unified School District board, cannot be called yet due to a large number of as-yet uncounted mail-in and provisional ballots. At this point, it is safe to say that both Paul Blatz and Carlon Strobel have large enough leads to be considered winners of two of the three open City Council positions. But with only 30 votes separating Len Klaif from Carol Smith, neither camp is prepared to claim victory until all the votes have been counted and certified by the county.
Outgoing Mayor Steve Olsen (who did not seek re-election), said, “Ojai was fortunate to have well-qualified candidates for the residents to choose from. I would like to congratulate those that won and remind them that the hard work begins now.”
Blatz offered thanks and gratitude for earning the most votes, 1,358, and promised to continue working on hiring a new city manager, see through the completion of Libbey Bowl construction, and work on ordinances cleaning up vacant buildings along Ojai Avenue, along with many other things. “I am truly honored by the confidence you have shown in me to serve on your behalf,” he said in a prepared statement. “I especially want to thank all those volunteers who worked tirelessly on my campaign with a special thanks to my campaign manager and son, Ryan Blatz, who ran an impressive campaign. And to Cindy Latella, who once again was my campaign assistant and the ‘Eagle’ you may have seen at the ‘Y.’ My election victory would not have been possible without their help.”
Strobel, who garnered the second position for City Council with 1,162 votes, said after the election chaos, she is looking forward to a trip to the East Coast with friends. “We’re shopping and eating our way up the coast for two weeks,” she laughed. “Then when we get back, it’s time to get to work. I’m very excited, but I know it’s going to be a lot of work. I’ve watched the council for many years (as former city clerk and recorder), and I know how hard they work. I’m ready.”
In the OUSD race, Kathi Smith claimed 3,926 votes so far, while fellow incumbent Rikki Horne garnered 3,355. The third position is currently held by Pauline Mercado, but her 2,319 votes put her only three votes ahead of challenger Susan Malkin, meaning it’s still very much anyone’s game.
OUSD superintendent Hank Hank Bangser offered the following quote, assuming the three-vote margin in Mercado’s favor is maintained: “Each of the three incumbents has contributed significantly to the leadership of the district over many years. I am very pleased that they will be continuing in this most challenging time for all public schools in California and definitely in Ojai. I congratulate Susan Malkin for her fine campaign effort.”
Despite the unanswered questions, it could still be a week or more until Ventura County officials are prepared to release the final results, according to assistant registrar of voters, Tracy Saucedo.
Tens of thousands of vote-by-mail ballots from across the county have yet to be counted, she added, but the majority of those will mostly likely be counted by Saturday. Before they can get to the 11,000 provisional ballots, however, the county must first go through all 357 polling place rosters, and scan in each individual bar code to verify that no one voted at more than one polling place. “We’ve got to make sure they didn’t vote twice,” Saucedo said. “They might’ve returned a vote by mail ballot and gone to a polling place. That process takes three to four days.” Then, it’s on to the provisional ballots.”
Once the results are certified, recounts can be demanded, “But whoever wants a recount does have to pay for it,” Saucedo pointed out.
City Council members will not be sworn into office until Dec. 14, according to Rhonda Basore, deputy city clerk. Should incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Carol Smith be certified in the third council position, she will be sworn into the mayoral position at that time. But if Klaif is elected, Basore said, then as deputy clerk she will ask for a vote by council members, and a new mayor will be sworn in that night as well.
Other local winners are as follows: City Clerk, Cynthia Burell, 1,375 (70.95 percent); Ojai Valley Sanitary District, Division 4, Bill O’Brien, 509 (57.19 percent); Ojai Valley Sanitary District, Division 6, Stan Greene, 664 (62.23 percent).