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Voters Facing a Bulky Ballot at Polls Today : Election: There are 361 candidates seeking 250 positions, as well as 32 propositions, capping a competitive, contentious primary season.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ending the most competitive, contentious primary season here in recent history, San Diego voters will go to the polls today to decide the fate of a handful of embattled incumbents and several ballot propositions that could change the complexion of local politics.

After enduring a lengthy campaign that, in several major races, ended amid a confusing blur of acrimony and distortion, voters will face the daunting challenge of wading through a ballot that includes 361 candidates seeking 250 positions, as well as 32 propositions. Most voters will cast ballots on slightly more than half of those propositions.

Polls throughout San Diego County will be open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters uncertain of their polling place or who experience other Election Day problems can contact the voter registrar’s office at 565-5800 for assistance.

Among the primaries that will be most closely watched today are races in which three incumbents--Rep. Jim Bates, Assemblyman Peter Chacon and Assemblywoman Sunny Mojonnier--face the toughest reelection battles in their political careers. With a variety of alleged ethical transgressions compounding questions about each’s overall effectiveness, each has drawn strong opposition in his or her party primary--a rarity in San Diego politics, where incumbents usually attract only token opposition, even in general elections.

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Countywide voters also will take the first step toward replacing Sheriff John Duffy, who is retiring after a 20-year career. If none of the five candidates on the ballot--Jack Drown, Ray Hoobler, Vince Jimno, James Messenger and Jim Roache--receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will compete in a November runoff.

In his bid for a fifth two-year term in the 44th Congressional District, Bates (D-San Diego) faces lawyer and longtime Democratic activist Byron Georgiou, who has made Bates’ reprimand by the House Ethics Committee last year on charges that he sexually harassed female staffers the issue in their increasingly bitter primary. Bates, who has repeatedly apologized for what he terms “kidding and flirting around,” has staked his prospects on the hope that voters “won’t let one thing wipe out” his nearly two-decade-old public career.

Viewing Bates’ problems as a rare opportunity in the heavily Democratic district, five Republicans--Randall (Duke) Cunningham, Joseph Ghougassian, Jim Lantry, Eric Epifano and Kenny Harrell--have lined up in the GOP primary.

In the Assembly races, both Chacon, a Democrat an 11th two-year term in the 79th District, and Mojonnier, a Republican running for a fifth term in the 75th District, have been kept on the defensive by, among other factors, state investigations into their acceptance of controversial honorariums. Chacon faces former San Diego City Councilwoman Celia Ballesteros and newspaper editor John Warren in his renomination battle, while Mojonnier has drawn three GOP challengers--former Del Mar Mayor Ronnie Delaney, La Jolla businesswoman Fay McGrath and Poway school board member Stan Rodkin.

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In the 78th Assembly District, Republican Jeff Marston and Democrat Mike Gotch are competing in an unusual “double election"--the runoff in a special election to fill the vacancy created by Democrat Lucy Killea’s election to the state Senate last December, and their “normal” primaries. The victor in Tuesday’s runoff will serve the remaining six months in Killea’s unexpired term, then will probably have to again face the loser this fall for the next two-year term.

Two other Assembly members--Republican Tricia Hunter and Democrat Steve Peace--also face credible primary challenges in the 76th and 80th districts, respectively. Peace, first elected in 1982, faces lawyers Darrel Vandeveld and Robert Garcia, while Hunter, who won a nationally prominent special election last fall, is opposed by anti-abortion activist Connie Youngkin.

Of the 15 local propositions on today’s ballot in portions of the county--the other 17 are statewide matters--one of the most significant is Proposition D, which would extend for four years a waiver of the so-called Gann spending limit in the city of San Diego. If voters renew the waiver that they approved three years ago by a razor-thin 50.2% vote, the city--without raising taxes--could spend millions of dollars more annually in tax revenue, which is growing at a faster rate than the formula on which the Gann limit is based. Without the waiver, city officials warn, spending on a wide range of services and programs would have to be slashed.

Other major ballot issues include Proposition B, which would increase the size of the San Diego City Council by two seats, from eight to 10; Proposition H, a proposed city charter in Oceanside; and school tax or bond matters in Carlsbad and Fallbrook.

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