In a strong endorsement for combining Hollywood’s performers unions, Ken Howard has easily won a second two-year term as president of the Screen Actors Guild after spending the past two years pushing for a merger beteween SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

Howard defeated a trio of relative unknowns for the presidency — David Hillberg, Asmar Muhammad and Sharon Rubin — with 75% of the 23,459 votes cast. As usual, participation was fairly light with just over 23% of members voting.

“There’s nothing more important than members exercising their right to vote, and I’m very grateful for their continued support,” said Howard in a statement. “With so many pro-merger candidates elected again this year, there’s no doubt what members want, and I look forward to presenting a comprehensive plan to the SAG and AFTRA national boards in January.”

Howard’s running mate, secretrary-treasurer Amy Aquino, won re-election without opposition as the heads of the Unite for Strength faction. Both also won national board seats repping Hollywood along nine other Unite for Strength reps — Tony Shalhoub, Adam Arkin, Stephen Collins, D.W. Moffett, Ned Vaughn, Mimi Cozzens, Arye Gross, L. Scott Caldwell and Kate Flannery.

Shalhoub, a newcomer to SAG politics, topped 58 candidates seeking the Hollywood seats, followed by Howard, Arkin and Aquino. Arkin, Caldwell, Moffett and Vaughn are incumbents on the 71-member national board.

Howard won the 2009 election with 47% of the vote over Anne-Marie Johnson with 33% and Seymour Cassel with 18% while Aquino narrowly beat incumbent Connie Stevens. Unite for Strength candidates, who have stressed merger and pragmatism, have dominated in recent elections over the self-styled progressives of Membership First.

Scott Bakula was the only candidate to win a national board seat who wasn’t a part of Unite for Strength, holding on to his seat as part of the self-styled progressive wing — which has been contending that a merged SAG should be only for actors. Unite for Strength also won all but two of the 22 Hollywood/National Alternate seats, which were won by Valerie Harper and Esai Morales.

The other alternate seats went to Ellen Crawford, Stacey Travis, John Carroll Lynch, Lisa Vidal, Christine Lakin, Michael O’Neill, Mandy Steckelberg, Tara Radcliffe, Michelle Allsopp, Bob Bergen, Assaf Cohen, Jon Huertas, Sarayu Rao, Allen Lulu, Woody Schultz, Donal Logue, Patrick Fabian, Iqbal Theba, Bertila Damas and Parvesh Cheena.

Unite for Strength leader Ned Vaughn said, “If you’re in tune with what members need and want, they will support your leadership – that’s what happened today. The leaders who have been working hard to bring SAG and AFTRA together were overwhelmingly re-elected here in Hollywood and across the country. We’re going to continue that vital work and by January, I believe we’ll have a solid plan for the boards to review.

The first two formal meetings between reps of the AFTRA and SAG have begun working out details of the merger plan as part of the official process of delivering a merger plan by next January.

A member vote could take place by mid-year by the 120,000 members of SAG and the 70,000 members of AFTRA — with 45,000 members belonging to both.

Membership First, which dominated SAG politics between 2005 and 2008, opted not to run a candidate for president or a slate in this election and lost ground with board members David Jolliffe and William Mapother falling short of keeping their seats. Remaining Membership First reps on the board are Ed Asner, Clancy Brown, Elliott Gould, Anne-Marie Johnson, Ed Harris, Diane Ladd and Martin Sheen.