Election Over, Moreno Wins Supervisor Seat

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 19, 2024

Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno has won the Dist. 5 County Supervisor seat over fellow Councilwoman Susan Funk.

The March Primary Election is now officially over and no changes occurred from earlier returns, as the County Clerk-Recorder’s Office finished up counting all the votes in what was a well-attended election.

Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano announced on March 27 the end of counting and her certification of the results of the March 4 election.

In the only election race contested on the County level, the Dist. 5 Supervisor race was called for Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno, who won a 2-way race against Atascadero Councilwoman Susan Funk.

Moreno tallied 9,551 total votes for 56.38% to Funk’s 7,390 votes and 43.62%. However, Moreno won’t assume the Supervisor seat until the term of out-going Dist. 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold’s ends at the end of the year. Until then she said she plans to continue her duties as A-town’s Mayor.

Moreno told the Atascadero News, “I am deeply honored by the trust and confidence the voters have placed in me. It is the unwavering support, dedication and shared vision of so many in our community that have propelled us to this remarkable achievement.”

Funk told Atascadero News, “I called Mayor Moreno last week and congratulated her on her victory in this race. She and I both expressed appreciation for our mutual commitment to keeping the dynamics and issues of the campaign out of our shared work as members of the Atascadero City Council. “

In the other two County Supervisor races Dist. 1’s John Peschong and Dist. 3’s Dawn Ortiz-Legg both ran unopposed, though there was a weak last-minute write-in candidacy that sprang up to challenge Ortiz-Legg. 

Ortiz-Legg garnered 12,272 of the 13,138 votes cast in the district, good for 93.41%. Write-in candidate Michelle Marie Morrow got 866 votes. 

Peschong got all 11,408 votes cast in the Dist. 1 election for 100% of the vote.

All in all it was a pretty well attended election, with turnout here considerably better than the State overall. “San Luis Obispo County’s voter participation rate in this election,” Cano’s report said, “was officially 52.34 percent of registered voters, which was well above the statewide average of 34 percent.”

We also did better than neighboring counties to the north and south. “Not only was local voter participation higher than the statewide average,” Cano said, “SLO County’s turnout was higher than counties of comparable size and population, including neighboring Santa Barbara and Monterey, which had turnout of about 42 percent and 32 percent, respectively.”

The Election also marked the continued growth in popularity of voting by mail. “Of the 92,526 ballots cast and counted,” Cano said, “94.28 percent of SLO County voters opted to use their vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot and 5.72 percent cast a poll ballot on Election Day.”

VBM balloting is controversial as there remains no way to truly verify who actually filled out a ballot, even as it continues to be used more and more in elections across the nation.

Cano said California’s system, though time consuming, works.

California Counties actually have 30 days (until April 4) from the election to finish the count and certify the results, so taking 3 weeks, as SLO County did, actually came in under the deadline.

“State Law,” Cano said, “also dictates several specific steps in the vote canvassing process, including allowing for VBM ballots postmarked on or before Election Day to arrive at the County Elections Office up to 7-days later. Additionally, the Elections Office must manually review each VBM voter’s signature — in this case, more than 87,000 signatures — and contact any voter who forgot to sign their envelope or whose signature doesn’t appear to match their record, so that they may ‘cure’ their signature and render the ballot eligible for counting. Staff must also research and confirm the eligibility of every provisional ballot cast. All of this takes time and translates into a bit of a wait for California voters.”

SLO County also checks its tabulating machines both before the election and during the count, checking the machine’s totals against a hand-count of 1% of the ballots randomly selected. They also allow election observers to keep an eye on the election workers. 

“Those who came in to observe were able to see our work as we did it and ask questions about each step,” according to Cano. She said their counting process, “is always open to community observers, provided they check in and adhere to the office’s conduct guidelines.”

Now that certification of the primary election is complete, the Elections Office is getting ready to start work on November’s General Election, which could see an even higher turnout than the Primary, as the nation will be selecting a new President and Vice President, as well as new U.S. Senator.

Locally, Morro Bay will see three city council seats, including Mayor on the ballot. So far, EBN has confirmed that Mayor Carla Wixom plans to seek re-election, and local businessmen Jeff Eckles and Bill Luffee plan to throw their hats into the ring. Up for re-election are Councilwomen Jen Ford and Laurel Barton. Neither councilwoman responded to an EBN request asking if they planned to run again.

Currently, Morro Bay’s City Council seats are held entirely by women (including Councilwomen Cyndee Edwards and Mayor Pro Tem Zara Landrum). If the Ford and Barton don’t run or other women join the races, the first-ever all-woman makeup of the board could be short-lived.

The City’s official nomination period, according to City Clerk Dana Swanson, runs from July 15-Aug. 9, provided all of the incumbents do run. If any bow out, the deadline would be extended to Aug. 14.

Also on Morro Bay’s November Ballot will be Measure A-24, a citizen’s initiative that would lock in the existing zoning for the power plant property, an attempt to throw up a roadblock in plant owner Vistra’s plans to build a Battery Energy Storage System or BESS on the old power plant property.

A-24 would require a vote of the people to approve any zoning changes needed for the BESS Project, and also applies to the west side of Embarcadero from Beach Street to Morro Rock, including all of the City-managed State Tidelands Leases in that area.


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