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Election Chief Is Ready, Wary

October 07, 2003|Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writer

Officials are making unprecedented preparations for California's historic recall election because of the challenges presented by the long gubernatorial replacement ballot, the use of new or antiquated equipment by many of the state's voters and the specter of litigation, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said Monday.

Shelley is dispatching 50 monitors -- about six times more than usual -- around the state for today's balloting on the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. And Shelley has asked counties to increase staff at polling places and put additional workers on standby to help with any difficulties.

While Shelley was more optimistic than he was several weeks ago that the election would go smoothly, he added, "I can't assure you there will not be isolated problems."

State and local election officials have launched voter education campaigns, especially in Los Angeles and five other counties that will be using outdated punch-card ballot systems.

They are urging voters to fill out their sample ballots before they come to their polling place so they will not have difficulty navigating the field of 135 gubernatorial hopefuls.

"We don't want people, with long lines at polling places, to say, 'Wait, I can't find my candidate,' " Shelley said.

The secretary of state said he expects the turnout to be at least as high as November's governor's election, when it was about half of the registered voters, but he said it is impossible to predict how high it would go.

Shelley said that a semiofficial canvass -- consisting of votes cast on election day and 2.1 million absentee ballots already cast -- will be reported after the polls close at 8 p.m. through Wednesday morning.

Then Thursday morning, the official canvass begins with the counting of perhaps a million absentee ballots brought in on election day and unknown numbers of provisional votes cast by people who went to the wrong polling place.

Whether these votes can affect the outcome, Shelley said, will depend on how close the initial vote tally is.

Because many counties consolidated their polling places for the special election, he said, it's anyone's guess how many provisional ballots will be cast by voters who show up at the wrong polling place.

"I expect we will know the outcome, probably, within a day or two," he said.

But the results will not become official until the secretary of state certifies them. And that can legally take up to 39 days, including 28 days for local registrars to reconcile the number of people who come to polling places with the number of ballots cast and to hand count votes in 1% of the precincts.

Within five days of completion of the local canvass, any registered voter can request a recount, although he or she must pay for it according to a local fee schedule.

The secretary of state cannot certify the statewide election until he hears from all 58 counties.

But Shelley said he can certify the election, and in the event of a successful recall, a new governor could be sworn in, even while a recount continues.

If the recount changes the result, the governorship would pass to the new winner unless someone in another county requests a recount within 24 hours, officials said.

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