Thursday, September 25, 2003

California recall election

Semi-order restored

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, notorious for unpredictable rulings, finally restored some predictability to California's recall election for governor. Tuesday, the full 11-judge panel in San Francisco reversed a Sept. 15 decision by its own three-judge panel and ruled the election can take place on Oct. 7, as planned. The court wisely decided not to interfere in an election already begun, with some 700,000 absentee ballots already cast.

The costly special election, now only 12 days away, has displayed all the decorum of a gong show with 135 candidates registered. Had the appeals court reaffirmed delaying the election over use of error-prone punch-card ballots in Los Angeles and five other counties, the likeliest date for a replacement election would have been March 2. The full appeals court mercifully cut short further disruption in a state with a $35 billion deficit, bigger than the deficits of all other states combined.

The recall of unpopular Democratic Gov. Gray Davis has been a study in "Be careful what you ask for." That includes asking courts to decide when elections can be held. Republican challengers Arnold Schwarzenegger the actor and state Sen. Tom McClintock could split the Oct. 7 vote and hand the election to Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who spent $1.7 million on the petition drive to hold a special recall election, not only dropped out as a candidate himself but said Monday he would urge Californians to vote no on recall, if both Schwarzenegger and McClintock stayed in the race and risked electing another Democrat, Bustamante. Cooler heads got to Issa and Tuesday he was back pushing a "yes" vote on recall. Voters also may have had second thoughts about dumping Davis, if polls can be believed showing those favoring recall have dropped from 58 to 53 percent in a month.

There could be a further shakeout of challengers after last night's debate, the only one Schwarzenegger took part in. The Oct. 7 election could trigger more lawsuits, if the winning margin is less than the 40,000 votes supposedly at risk of miscount from punch-cards. California is renowned for starting nationwide trends, but recall elections for governor aren't likely to be one of them.

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