Photo Finish In Jindal-Popescu 1st District LL Race

The race to represent Loma Linda’s First District on City Council is coming down to the wire, with a mere 8 votes of the 518 counted so far, or 1.54 percent, separating the leader, Ovidiu Popescu, from the incumbent, Bhavin Jindal.
If Popescu’s lead holds, it will reverse Jindal’s vanquishing of Popescu four years ago, when Popescu, who at that time was a three-term incumbent on the council, was displaced by Jindal in a five-person race for the three council positions being contested in what was then an at-large election. Popescu, who was first elected to the council in 2008 and served four years in the capacity of mayor pro tem from 2010 to 2014, placed fifth in the 2020 competition.
Since then, Loma Linda has transitioned to district elections for city council. As fate had it, Popescu and Jindal live within the same district, which set up a rematch between the two.
In the sixteen days since the election, with the influx of late arriving mail-in ballots and the resolution of disputed/provisional ballots has taken place, Popescu’s initial lead, which stood at a more convincing 6.82 percent. As of a tally made at 4 p.m. on March 6, the Wednesday afternoon after the polls had closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday March 5, with all of the ballots cast at District 1 five precincts and the mail-in ballots received by the registrar of voters’ office tallied by the high-speed ballot scanners the elections office employs, Popescu was ahead with 53.41 percent of the vote to Jindal’s 46.59 percent.
Since that time, however, the straggling mail-in ballots have been trending in Jindal’s favor. In addition, the one provisional ballot in the First District that was determined to be valid went in Jindal’s favor. Of the 518 votes counted as of 4 p.m. on March 21, Popescu leads 263 votes or 50.77 percent to Jindal’s 255 votes or 49.23 percent. Of Popescu’s votes, 230 came on mail-in ballots and 33 were cast at the polls. Jindal’s candidacy was endorsed by 225 of his constituents voting by mail, 29 cast at the precincts and one voter who marked up what was initially considered a provisional ballot.
According to the registrar of voters’ website, a total of 563 ballots have come in, 70 of which were cast at the polls, 492 of which were mailed in and one other ballot deemed provisional. According to the website, of the 492 mail-in ballots, 455 have been deemed valid and were counted. Of the 70 cast at the polling places, 62 have been deemed valid and were counted. One ballot designated as provisional has also been counted. This leaves 37 mail-in ballots in dispute and uncounted and 8 ballots at the polls in dispute and uncounted. Those 45 ballots and whether any of those will be determined upon further scrutiny to be valid and therefore counted are key to the outcome. At this date, March 22, it is doubtful that any further mail-in ballots bearing a March 5 or previous postmark will arrive at the registrar of voters’ office.
The Sentinel is informed that of the 45 ballots that are hanging in limbo, the registrar’s office has made a determination that four of them should be counted and they will be added to the tallies on March 26 by 4 p.m. Additionally, another five ballots are being closely examined and could be counted as well. The remaining 36 ballots are very likely to be deemed redundant, damaged or indiscernible, and will be jettisoned.
In no case will any ballots be counted beyond April 4, at which point the election is to be certified.
On March 5, incumbent District Four Councilman John Lenart was convincingly defeated by newcomer Rhona Spencer-Hwang. Lenart polled 326 votes or 35.47 percent to Spencer-Hwang’s 593 or 64.53 percent. In District 5, incumbent Councilman Rhodes Rigsby retained his position, defeating challenger Juan Carlos Belliard by a margin of 496 votes or 58.35 percent to 354 votes or 41.65 percent.

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