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More than 60% of eligible California voters went to polls

McGreevy and Groves are Times staff writers.

More than 60% of Californians who were eligible to vote cast ballots in the Nov. 4 presidential election, the highest turnout since Richard Nixon and George McGovern competed for the office in 1972, elections officials reported Tuesday.

The total includes all qualified citizens, including those who had not registered to vote. The percentage of registered voters who cast ballots statewide was 80.6% -- 81.9% in Los Angeles County.

The state’s 58 counties were required to finish counting ballots Tuesday, and the results put to rest a few close races, showing that Tony Strickland defeated Hannah Beth Jackson in the 19th Senate District and Tom McClintock beat Charlie Brown in the 4th Congressional District.

Proposition 11, the statewide redistricting measure, passed by a narrow margin, though a few small counties were still tallying ballots into the evening.

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And the Beverly Hilton narrowly won approval from Beverly Hills voters to expand its complex with a Waldorf-Astoria hotel and two luxury condo towers, though opponents contend that the drawn-out vote was tainted by irregularities and have vowed to continue their battle in court.

The Los Angeles County Registrar’s office spent weeks counting provisional and absentee ballots that ended up swinging the results in favor of the Hilton’s proposal by a 129-vote margin. The final tally was 7,972 votes in favor, or 50.41%, and 7,843 votes opposed, 49.59%.

“That’s because they were counting questionable provisional ballots, including a number we challenged,” said Larry Larson, treasurer of the Citizens Right to Decide Committee, which opposed the measure.

Marie Garvey, a Beverly Hilton spokeswoman, said: “We have full faith in the county’s process.”

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She said that the Hilton planned to begin construction on the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 2009 and that the aim is to “develop a world-class project worthy of Beverly Hills.”

The high turnout in Los Angeles County, not seen since 1968, was a result of several factors, including strong voter interest in the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain, according to Dean Logan, the county’s Registrar-Recorder.

“It was the combination of an election that has historic significance to both major parties’ tickets, the economic situation and the fact that there was no sitting president or vice president on the ballot,” Logan said.

Controversial ballot measures, including a ban on gay marriage, also attracted Californians to the polls in high numbers.

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The secretary of state will not post the voter totals until next week, but a survey of the counties indicates the highest turnout since 64.5% of all those eligible to vote cast ballots in 1972.

One of the closest statewide contests involved Proposition 11, which takes the drawing of state legislative districts away from the state Legislature and gives it to a bipartisan citizens panel.

The measure received support from 51% of the voters, winning by more than a quarter of a million ballots.

Supporters said the state Legislature’s failure to deal with a projected $28-billion budget shortfall helped in the victory, as did the broad-based coalition of government reform groups, including AARP.

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The budget failure “was a very sad example of what’s wrong and that made it very clear to folks who were voting that we do have a problem,” said Jeannine English, California president of AARP.

However, civil rights groups including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund are considering options, which could include asking the U.S. Department of Justice to step in or filing a lawsuit arguing that changes to the redistricting plan could harm minority voters.

“We are disappointed and we are considering all of our options,” said Nancy Ramirez, an attorney for the group.

Los Angeles County’s Measure R, a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects, received 67.9% of the vote, a little more than the two-thirds needed for passage.

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Proposition A, a parcel tax proposal to raise money for gang programs in Los Angeles, received 66.27% of the vote, a little less than the two-thirds margin needed.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

martha.groves@latimes.com

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Patrick McGreevy reporting from Sacramento

Martha Groves reporting from Los Angeles


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