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Recall Race Wraps Up in a Whirlwind

Candidates make their final appeals in the historic election on removing Gov. Davis. Officials across the state brace for heavy turnout.

October 07, 2003|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

The tumultuous California recall race hurtles to a close today when millions of voters cast their ballots on whether to sweep Gray Davis from office and install a new governor to finish the remaining three years of his term.

Davis and leading contenders for his job raced across the state Monday beseeching supporters to turn out for the historic election -- the first statewide recall ever presented to California voters.

The Democratic governor, dashing from a Sacramento school forum to raucous labor rallies in San Francisco and Los Angeles, urged voters to give him credit for making progress on education, health care, the environment and jobs.

"I know that people are angry, and I've acknowledged making some mistakes, but we are working through these problems," Davis said.

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose celebrity status has sparked worldwide media coverage of the race, campaigned in San Jose, Huntington Beach and San Bernardino.

"Do you want to go backward with Gray Davis or do you want to go forward with Arnold?" he told throngs of sign-waving supporters in a San Jose airplane hangar before heading to Southern California. "Those are the choices."

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante adopted a novel technique for his last day on the stump: He posed for photographs with bystanders at Polaroid shops in Oakland and San Francisco. Earlier, at a United Farm Workers rally in East Los Angeles, Bustamante cast himself as a protector of gains achieved under Davis for immigrants, minorities and workers.

"We have just 36 hours to get out the vote -- are we going to do it?" the Democrat asked more than 100 cheering UFW volunteers at a Knights of Columbus hall. "We need to do it for our families. We need to do it for all those workers who are not being paid the proper wage. We need to do it for all those families who are not getting health-care benefits."

The only major contender to stay put Monday was state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks). Dispensing with the traditions of rallies, crowd-waving and child-hugging, he planted himself at a Sacramento television studio, where he gave no fewer than 17 interviews, many of them beamed nationwide by satellite.

McClintock made a final plea to conservatives who might be inclined to vote for the moderate Schwarzenegger under the assumption that he is the only Republican who can win. McClintock portrayed himself as the candidate who is truest to conservative values.

"I suspect a lot of people have been sitting down these last few days sorting through their thoughts," he said. "I say to them: Come on home."

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Given the saturation news coverage of the recall campaign, election officials are bracing for a heavy turnout. More than 2.2 million of California's 15 million registered voters have already voted by absentee ballot.

To avoid a morning and evening rush, elections officials are urging voters to go to the polls in the middle of the day if possible.

"Clearly it's going to be more crowded, and there will be more lines," said Conny McCormack, the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder. "It would be naive to assume anything else."

Because of the unprecedented nature of the recall, state officials have not made their traditional preelection prediction of turnout. In the November governor's race, 51% of registered voters cast ballots, a record low; in the 2000 presidential election, turnout was 71%.

For some elections officials, the compressed timetable of the recall was cause for concern. Counties had less than three months to prepare, considerably less time than usual.

Several counties, including Los Angeles, are opening far fewer polling stations than they do in normal November elections, a situation that Democrats and civil rights groups challenged unsuccessfully in court. Other counties, such as Orange, are using new optical scan voting machines for the first time.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and others have warned of possible complications at the polls, but hope that a voter education program, along with the intense media coverage, will minimize troubles.

"We've certainly done as much as humanly possible to prepare for this unique statewide election," said Assistant Secretary of State Terri M. Carbaugh. "We are optimistic that we will be able to identify and respond quickly to any challenges that may arise."

The ballot will offer a yes or no vote on whether Davis should be retained as governor. If a majority supports his recall, Davis will be ousted.

The second part of the recall vote is a menu of 135 candidates running to succeed the governor in case he is recalled. Voters can pick a successor regardless of whether they chose yes or no on the Davis recall.

The leading candidates -- Schwarzenegger, Bustamante and McClintock -- will appear in different sections of the candidate list, depending on the election district. Officials recommend that voters study their sample ballots before entering the voting booth.

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