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U.S. Court Throws Wrench Into Election

Voters would face an unacceptable risk of errors caused by antiquated punch-card voting machines, a three-judge panel rules in decision to postpone Oct. 7 balloting. The second round of arguments in the case will be heard Monday.

September 21, 2003


* A federal appeals court panel unanimously ordered the Oct. 7 recall election postponed, throwing the recall campaign into a state of confusion. The three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the state would face an unacceptable risk of errors caused by antiquated punch-card voting machines if the election proceeded on schedule. The six counties that use punch-card machines, including Los Angeles and San Diego, already were scheduled to replace them for the March 2 primary, which will become the likely date of the recall election if the decision stands. The appeals court judges who issued Monday's decision based it primarily on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Bush vs. Gore case.

* Gov. Gray Davis and each of the major candidates to replace him pledged to continue campaigning until a final ruling. State Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) called the 9th Circuit the nation's "most reversed court -- the same court that banned the words, 'Under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance," a reference to a decision last year by a different 9th Circuit panel. "This election is called for by the Constitution and demanded by the people of California," he said. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the other prominent Republican in the race, also responded to the decision. "Historically, the courts have upheld the rights of voters, and I expect that the court will do so again in this case," he said.

* Conny B. McCormack, the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder, said she did not think the county's new optical-scan voting system could accommodate a March ballot packed with the recall, a presidential primary and an array of initiatives and local races. "We would not have the capacity," McCormack said after hearing of the federal appeals court ruling. Officials in San Diego, Sacramento and Orange counties said they had spent more than $1 million preparing for the recall election. McCormack did not say how much Los Angeles County stood to lose but said she had budgeted $13 million for the Oct. 7 election and had already spent more than $6 million to print and mail sample and absentee ballots and to hire election workers.


* As the judges considered what to do next, voters expressed widespread cynicism about the motives of the three-judge panel that ordered the postponement. Frustrated election officials expressed fresh outrage over the taxpayer dollars that would be wasted if the postponement stood. Interviews throughout the state suggested that California and its 58 counties had already spent at least half of the $66 million that the recall is expected to cost.

* The California Fair Political Practices Commission told a judge it's unclear whether Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's campaign spending strategy violates state law. The commission filed a 12-page letter as part of a lawsuit filed by state Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine), an author of Proposition 34, the voter-approved measure that regulates political fund-raising and spending. The commission is charged with enforcing that law. Johnson's suit alleges that Bustamante violated campaign contribution limits by accepting single donations as high as $1.5 million into an old account not covered by the new law, and by using the money to wage his current campaign. Proposition 34 bars candidates in the recall race from accepting direct donations of more than $21,200 from individual donors.

* The Rev. Jesse Jackson exhorted a predominantly African American audience to reject the recall of Davis. It was the latest appearance by a prominent national Democrat to press the campaign on the beleaguered governor's behalf. With Davis watching, Jackson told about 500 people packed into the Third Baptist Church gymnasium that California's financial difficulties -- and the frustration of people affected by the hard times -- were no different from those in other states across the nation. "California does not have a monopoly on this frustration," Jackson said.

* Bustamante picked up endorsements from several environmental groups, using the opportunity to charge the Bush administration with trying to undermine the Clean Air Act and open the state's wilderness to development. "California, I believe, needs a governor who'll make clean California water and air a California priority," Bustamante said.


* Los Angeles County's chief election official urged a federal appeals court to permit the recall election to be held on schedule Oct. 7, warning that putting off the vote could cause widespread confusion and ballot errors -- precisely the problems the judges said they were trying to avoid when they ordered the election postponed. "I have every confidence" that the election "can and will be administered fairly and effectively in the county of Los Angeles using the punch-card voting system," Conny B. McCormack, the county's registrar-recorder, wrote in a letter to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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