There’s a special class of leader coming to OC later this year – those who get to skip having to run for office.

They’re candidates who didn’t draw a challenger.

In many cases, they won’t even appear on the ballot.

And it means controlling majorities will be automatically elected in one city and four separate school districts.

Altogether, 86 candidates are getting to sidestep OC’s November election because they were the only ones who filed to run for a seat.

In Dana Point, a controlling majority of the city council is up for election.

But voters won’t get to decide who runs that city. 

None of the three city council seats will be chosen by voters, with each seat featuring only one candidate.

Controlling majorities of several school boards are also set to win automatically at the Anaheim Elementary, Buena Park, Laguna Beach Unified and Westminster school districts.

“I think it’s too bad for the voters, because those candidates aren’t likely to appear at forums, aren’t likely to hear from people,” said Jodi Balma, political science professor at Fullerton College, regarding candidates who are going unchallenged.

“As candidates ask voters for their vote as they campaign, there is a chance for community feedback that they don’t get from anywhere else.”

§

When it comes to single-candidate races, some want there to be a referendum – where the candidate must get a majority of the vote in the June primary, or else the seat goes before voters again in November with a chance for challengers to get on the ballot.

“Why can’t we vote NO when there is only one candidate?” a Voice of OC reader asked in an email to a reporter ahead of the June primary.

OC Sheriff Don Barnes had no challenger, noted the reader, who identified his first name as Pete.

“If a majority [votes] no confidence, then it [should go] back to the voters in Nov.,” he added.

That’s not the case currently, and changing it would require changing the law.

“I don’t think it would change the outcome of the vote, but I do understand people wanting the option,” Balma said, noting that it could show whether or not the single candidate has a strong mandate or not.

In the June primary, about 75% of voters who cast ballots voted for Barnes, the only sheriff candidate.

§

In some cases, the candidates winning automatically in November are brand new to elected office. 

Both Matthew Pagano and John Gabbard are running unopposed to the Dana Point City Council without any challengers, taking over the seats of outgoing Councilmen Joe Muller and Richard Viczorek who both termed out of office. 

Jamey Federico, an incumbent councilman, also is keeping his seat in Dana Point. 

A Voice of OC review found there are at least 20 candidates automatically winning in this election who’ve never had to face the voters, either applying for the seat and winning it because no one else is seeking it, or holding onto the seat after they were appointed to fill a vacancy. 

And in the Magnolia School District, there’s an open seat in the 1st District with nobody running for it, which means the school board will have to appoint someone to it under state law. 

The district also has two other board seats that will be appointed without an election due to a lack of challengers. 

The rules are set by state law, according to OC Registrar of Voters Bob Page, who oversees elections in Orange County.

Most of the unchallenged seats are on school boards and spread throughout a variety of water, library and community services districts that don’t get much attention from voters or the press. 

Balma said there’s a few reasons it’s hard to find people interested in running for the smaller jobs on the ballot, but one of the big reasons is there’s a smaller pool of potential candidates when already small jurisdictions are divided further by district elections. 

“It’s relatively easy to know if someone lives in a congressional district that covers 17 cities, it’s fairly easy to find a candidate and someone willing to run,” Balma said.

“It’s harder when you’re talking about a division of Brea, which is already small in number,” and is then divided into five districts.

A Voice of OC review of the unelected seats found that the vast majority were for a seat in a district election, or for a seat that managed a small district on its own, like a library board or community services district. 

Who’s Getting to Skip the Election?

*Candidates marked with an asterisk are not elected incumbents, but are the only ones running for the seat* 

City Councils

Connor Traut, Buena Park City Council, District 5 

John Gabbard, Dana Point City Council, District 1*

Matthew Pagano, Dana Point City Council, District 2*

Jamey Federico, Dana Point City Council, District 3 

Steve Jones, Garden Grove Mayor

Shelley Hasselbrink, Los Alamitos City Council, District 4 

Troy Bourne, San Juan Capistrano City Council, District 2 

John Taylor, San Juan Capistrano City Council, District 4 

School Districts 

Juan Gabriel Alvarez, Anaheim Elementary School District Trustee, District 2 

Mark A. Lopez, Anaheim Elementary School District Trustee, District 4 

Ryan A. Ruelas, Anaheim Elementary School District Trustee, District 5 

Annemarie Randle-Trejo, Anaheim Union High School District Trustee, District 2 

Anna L. Piercy, Anaheim Union High School District Trustee, District 5

Rhodia Shead, Buena Park School District Trustee, District 1 

Jason Chong, Buena Park School District Trustee, District 2 

Jerry Frutos, Buena Park School District Trustee, District 5 

Gila Jones, Capistrano Unified School District Trustee, District 6 

Art Montez, Centralia School District Trustee, District 2 

Luis Flores, Centralia School District Trustee, District 5 

Lydia Sondhi, Cypress School District Trustee, District D 

Aaruni Thakur, Fullerton School District Trustee, District 1 

Beverly Berryman, Fullerton School District Trustee, District 3 

Chester Jeng, Fullerton Joint Union High School District Trustee, District 1 

Marilyn Buchi, Fullerton Joint Union High School District Trustee, District 5

Bob Harden, Garden Grove Unified School District Trustee, District 4 

Meghan Willis, Huntington Beach City School District Trustee, District 2* 

Jeff Kim, Irvine Unified School District Trustee, District 4* 

Joan Malczewski, Laguna Beach Unified School District Trustee* 

Dee Perry, Laguna Beach Unified School District Trustee

James J. Kelly, Laguna Beach Unified School District Trustee

Anastasia Shackelford, Lowell Joint Union School District Trustee, District 5  

Connie Martin, Magnolia School District Trustee, District 2 

Annie S. Warne, Magnolia School District Trustee, District 5* 

Hector Bustos, Santa Ana Unified School District Trustee, District 5* 

Gay Zambrano, Savanna School District Trustee, District 1* 

John Shook, Savanna School District Trustee, District 3 

Jonathan Abelove, Tustin Unified School District Trustee, District 5 

Tina Gustin-Gurney, Westminster School District Trustee, District 2

Khanh Nguyen, Westminster School District Trustee, District 3 

Jeremy Khalaf, Westminster School District Trustee, District 5

Community College 

Elizabeth “Liz” Dorn Parker, Coast Community College District Trustee, District 5 

Stephen T. Blount, North Orange County Community College Trustee, District 3 

Daisy Xuanha Tong, Rancho Santiago Community College District Trustee, District 4* 

Philip E. “Phil” Yarbrough, Rancho Santiago Community College Trustee, District 6

Thomas “T.J.” Prendergast, III, South Orange County Community College District Trustee, District 2 

Service Districts

Felicia A. Lurner, Capistrano Bay Community Services District*  

Ross Misher, Capistrano Bay Community Services District* 

Patrick McNulty, Capistrano Bay Community Services District

Jim Flynn, Emerald Bay Service District 

Susan Thomas, Emerald Bay Service District 

John A. McDermott II, Emerald Bay Service District 

Gayle Mueller Winnen, Surfside Colony Community Services District  

Paul Mesmer, Surfside Colony Community Services District 

Tara Amundson, Surfside Colony Community Services District 

Linda Garofalo, Surfside Colony Community Services District* 

Tim Hamchuk, Three Arch Bay Community Services District 

Peter Barker, Three Arch Bay Community Services District* 

Water and Sanitation Districts

Marilyn Tatum Thoms, East Orange County Water District, District 2* 

George Murdoch, East Orange County Water District, District 3 

John Nielsen East Orange County Water District, District 4 

Michael Gaskins, El Toro Water District 

Kathryn Freshley, El Toro Water District 

Steve Lamar, Irvine Ranch Water District, District 2 

Peer A. Swan, Irvine Ranch Water District, District 5 

Al Nederhood, Municipal Water District of Orange County, District 1 

David A. Boyer, Rossmoor/Los Alamitos Area Sewer District 

John Stea, Rossmoor/Los Alamitos Area Sewer District* 

Dean Grose, Rossmoor/Los Alamitos Area Sewer District*

Saundra Frances Jacobs, Santa Margarita Water District 

Laura Freese, Santa Margarita Water District* 

Brad Reese, Serrano Water District, District 1 

Joseph L. Muller, South Coast Water District, District 1*  

William “Bill” Green, South Coast Water District, District 3 

Bernard Hartmann, Sunset Beach Sanitary District 

Henry Viets, Sunset Colony Storm/Water Protection District 

Eric Springer, Sunset Colony Storm/Water Protection District*

Ed Mandich, Trabuco Canyon Water District 

Mike Safranski, Trabuco Canyon Water District 

Glenn Acosta, Trabuco Canyon Water District 

Library Districts 

Brenda Estrada, Buena Park Library District, District 2* 

Richard Rams, Buena Park Library District, District 3 

Jo-Anne W. Martin, Placentia Library District

Scott W. Nelson, Placentia Library District* 

Stephanie L. Beverage, Placentia Library District* 

Miscellaneous

Hilllard Kaplan, Santiago Geologic Hazard Abatement District* 

Hari Lal, Santiago Geologic Hazard Abatement District 

Yaacov Haas, Santiago Geologic Hazard Abatement District*  

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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