Early election night results from Santa Ana showed voters leaning toward recalling City Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias and replacing her with Rancho Santiago Community College District Trustee Nelida Mendoza, who’s vying with two other candidates to take the seat.

Turnout was light, with about 18 percent of registered voters casting ballots, in Santa Ana’s first, all-mail ballot election.

Nearly 11,000 voters were in favor of ousting Iglesias, while more than 8,600 were opposed as of Tuesday night.  

A “Yes” on her recall currently led a “No” by 11 percentage points, as of the latest count on Tuesday night.

Officials expect to be done with vote counting after Kelley’s office receives the remaining mail-in ballots through Friday.

Iglesias wouldn’t be officially recalled until final election results show a majority in favor of her removal. 

If she is, early results leaned in favor of Nelida Mendoza, a community college board member backed by Councilman Jose Solorio, who had more than 6,800 votes. Mendoza had a 6 percentage point lead over local government attorney and planning commissioner Thai Viet Phan, who’s backed by Councilman Phil Bacerra and had more than 5,700 votes as of Tuesday night.

In last place was Angie Cano, a planning commissioner who’s close with Iglesias and opposes the recall entirely. She collected nearly 3,400 votes so far, and was trailing Phan by nearly 15 percentage points.

From left, right to bottom: candidates Thai Viet Phan, Nelida Mendoza, and Angie Cano, from during the virtual recall debate on April 22, 2020. Credit: Connect to Council Facebook Page

Current turnout in the Santa Ana recall election stands at about 18%, while similar special elections over the years have been between 22% and 26%, according to Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.

“Although it’s a bit lower than most special elections, it’s not unusual,” he said.

Of the ballots on hand Tuesday night, little over 1,000 remained to be counted. 

Election results will update at 5:00 p.m. Wednesday.

Council observers and community members are viewing the outcome of the recall as a scene-setter for the November general election — where four council seats, including Mayor Miguel Pulido’s, will be up for election. Iglesias is among this year’s contenders for the mayoral seat.

For more on what the recall election’s outcome means for Santa Ana, click here.

A former school board member known for her conservative base, Iglesias throughout her year-and-a-half in office garnered support among people in the city — both on the left and right — for her vote against enhanced police salaries, which in large part triggered a public battle with the local police union funding the recall campaign against her.

But Iglesias has also been at the center of several controversies, including her past support for President Donald Trump and one of Santa Ana’s most controversial development projects in recent years at 2525 N. Main St.

Iglesias’ fight with the union began with her hard line stance against $25 million in controversial raises for police officers granted by union-backed council members last year. Since then, she’s fought with the union’s president, Gerry Serrano, over social media and in public memos to the council, with Serrano requesting her removal from certain boards.

Serrano didn’t respond to requests for comment, but has in the past denied funding the recall campaign solely because of Iglesias’ stance on the raises.

Iglesias’ critics say the recall goes beyond the police union debate, arguing a few examples, like her controversial support for President Donald Trump and some of his policies — in a city with a large undocumented Latino population — and one of Santa Ana’s most protested development projects at 2525 N. Main St., have given residents more than one reason to support her recall.

Iglesias later flipped her vote on the project in late April, but only after two other council members switched their votes to consolidate a clear majority against it.

She’s also drawn the ire of her council colleagues. Back in April, in light of the coronavirus public health crisis’ anticipated impacts to the local economy, Iglesias tried to get council support to “suspend” the city’s Measure X sales tax increase approved by voters in 2018. After staff clarified such a move wouldn’t be legal, council members criticized her for trying to “score political points.”

And most recently, online accusations have been lobbed at Iglesias and Cano, alleging they played a role in the theft of pro-recall campaign signs. Iglesias denied those accusations on her Facebook page.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and Report for America corps member. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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