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Who’s Running and What Voters Need to Know for Merced County’s March Election

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The Merced County race drawing national attention is the congresssional rematch between first-term Rep. John Duarte and former Assemblymember Adam Gray. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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MERCED — Merced County’s new registrar of voters is gearing up for his first major election in March, where voters will cast ballots on federal, state, and local races plus ballot measures.

Brianna Vaccari Portrait

Brianna Vaccari

Central Valley Journalism Collaborative

The California Secretary of State last week certified the candidate lists for the March 2024 primary election, kicking off the election season.

The March 5 primary will mark the first major election administered by Melvin Levey. It’s also the first since the 2022 election when some Merced County voters received incorrect ballots.

The ballot error stemmed from a mapping issue related to redistricting. The Merced County Grand Jury investigated the issue, and Merced County officials paid for an independent investigation. The investigations found the error did not affect the outcome of the election.

Levey was appointed registrar of voters in January, after the error occurred under then-registrar Darlene Ingersoll. Levey is the son of Barbara Levey, who held the office for many years prior to Ingersoll.

New Voting Registrar Works to Restore Voter Trust

Since his appointment, Levey has worked to restore trust in the county elections office by meeting with community groups and sharing updates about the training and systems in the elections office.

Levey gave a presentation to the Merced City Council last month reviewing the corrective measures in place at the county elections office to reduce the chance for errors and reinforce the county’s election integrity.

“Trust in our elections is the most important thing that I can work to build every day,” he told CVJC in a phone interview.

He said he understands voters may be wary after a combination of the 2022 mistake, national attention on election integrity and the spread of misinformation.

“Our goal throughout this whole process is to be transparent, to be fair, to follow the laws,” he said. “The big thing that I would tell folks is if they have questions, if they have concerns, they can always reach out to our office.”

An Important Election for Merced County

The March 5 election will be an important one for Merced County voters, who will weigh candidates for U.S. Congress, the California Legislature, Merced Superior Court judges, Merced County supervisors and several local ballot initiatives.

More than 120,000 Merced County residents are registered to vote, Levey said. Registered Democrats make up the majority, at over 54,000, followed by Republicans at over 36,000. Nearly 28,000 Merced County voters are registered as having no party preference.

The big-ticket items on this ballot will mostly be regional races and local ballot measures. Local city council races, for example, will occur during the general election in November.

Races for federal and state offices, such as Congress and the California Legislature, will appear both on the March primary ballot and the November general election, but won’t be settled until the November election, Levey said.

Merced County supervisor races that have only two candidates may be decided in March, Levey said. If no candidate receives 50% plus one of the votes, the top two vote-getters will continue to a runoff election in November.

Congressional District 13

For their representative in Congress, Merced County voters will decide a rematch between first-term Rep. John Duarte, R-Modesto, and former Democrat Assemblymember Adam Gray.

It’s one of the most hotly-contested congressional seats in California, if not the nation. In 2022, Duarte beat Gray by a mere 564 votes, or less than half a percentage point, out of over 133,000 ballots cast.

It was the first race in the newly-drawn district, which stretches across five counties, including San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, and Fresno.

Merced County is the only county fully in the district and makes up more than one-third of the registered voters within the district boundaries.

Rep. John Duarte, a Republican, left, and former Assemblymember Adam Gray, a Democrat, will square off in a rematch of their 2022 battle for a House seat. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

California Legislature

In state Assembly District 27, first-term Democrat and incumbent Esmeralda Soria has one challenger, Joanna Garcia Rose, of Atwater. Rose’s biography on her campaign website says she has worked as a tax auditor for the California Employment Development Department, with experience in agriculture and running a water drilling business.

The district stretches from Livingston into Fresno and includes several cities and communities on the west side of the I-5 highway.

Another rematch will take place in the race for Assembly District 22. Republican Juan Alanis in 2022 defeated Democrat Jessica Self by 16 percentage points. Self is again challenging Alanis for the seat to represent the district, which includes northern portions of Merced County and the southern portion of Stanislaus County.

Merced County Supervisor District 1

Merced County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinosa is running for re-election and has three challengers: Sonia Fernanda Alshami, Maria Soto and Jim Pacheco.

Fernanda Alshami is a business owner and previously ran for Merced City Council. Soto is an educator and currently sits on the Livingston City Council. Pacheco is a retired sheriff’s deputy who currently works as a bailiff.

District 1 includes the communities of Planada, El Nido, Livingston, Santa Nella, and Le Grand.

Merced County Supervisor District 2

Incumbent Josh Pedrozo is running for re-election against one challenger, Annissa L. Fragoso, an insurance agent who serves as the president of the Merced County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

District 2 includes much of the western region of the City of Merced, UC Merced, and adjacent communities. 

Merced County Supervisor District 4

Lloyd Pareira, who currently represents District 4, is running for re-election and has two challengers, Dennis J. Brazil and Jim Soria.

Brazil is a former member of the Gustine City Council and previously served as mayor of Gustine.

Soria previously served as mayor of Livingston and sat on the city council. He also ran for sheriff in 2014.

District 4 borders both Stanislaus and Mariposa counties and includes the city of Gustine and the unincorporated communities of Delhi, Hilmar, Winton and Snelling.

Merced County Superior Court Judge

Three candidates are running to fill a vacancy for Merced Superior Court judge. They are Regina Sonja Lea Adams, Carlos Dammeier and Monika Saini-Donabed.

Ballot Measures

Voters living in the Merced city limits will vote on whether to renew Measure C, a 20-year, half-cent tax to provide $8 million in annual funding for city police officers, firefighters, and road improvements.

The ballot question asks voters to approve converting Measure C to a special tax, which would limit the use of funding for only its stated purpose, and necessitate annual audits and citizen oversight.

Former Merced Mayor Mike Murphy and supporters of the Measure C sales tax delivered nearly 5,000 voter signatures to Assistant City Clerk Jennifer Levesque on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. The ballot measure asks city voters to decide whether to extend the half-cent tax to fund public safety. (CVJC File/Michelle Morgante)

Measure E – Delhi Unified School District

Voters living in the unincorporated community of Delhi will cast ballots on Measure E, deciding whether to allow the Delhi Unified School District to issue $17 million in bonds for facilities updates. The bonds would generate about $990,000 annually. Owners of taxable property would pay about $60 per $100,000 assessed value.

The bonds will fund replacing HVAC systems; renovating safety and security operations, classrooms, restrooms, and school facilities. None of the money will be used for salaries, and the spending would be subject to annual audits and citizen oversight.

Measure G – City of Los Banos

Shall the offices of city clerk and city treasurer be appointed?

Measure H – City of Los Banos

Shall the term of office of mayor be four years? A “no” vote would retain the current two-year term.

What Voters Can Expect

The last day to register to vote is Feb. 20. Anyone who wishes to register to vote and cast a ballot after can do so up to Election Day, but they will use a conditional ballot.

Merced County voters will receive their ballots in the mail after Feb. 5 when the registrar’s office mails them. Ballots can be returned to the registrar’s office via mail, by dropping their sealed and signed ballot to an official drop box or turning in their ballot on Election Day.

Three voting assistance centers will open Feb. 24, or 10 days before the election, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. All 14 voting centers will be open on March 2 before the election, and any Merced County voter can go to any voting center.

A list of voting assistance centers with dates and times open will be listed in the Merced County voter guide and on the elections website, www.mercedelections.org.

On Election Day, March 5, voting centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

All vote-by-mail ballots must be postmarked by March 5 and received by 5 p.m. March 12. Vote-by-mail ballots can be dropped off at voting centers as well up until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

About the Author

Brianna Vaccari is the governmental accountability/watchdog reporter for the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced.

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